November-December 2014 … The Global Online Magazine of Arts, Information & Entertainment … Volume 10, Number 6
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Category — Politics

Jim Palombo/Politics

United States Armed Forces. United States Joint Service Color Guard on parade at Fort Myer

United States Joint Service Color Guard on parade at Fort Myer

One More Time

I’m writing this as I return from New York City, amid beautiful autumn weather that lends even more splendor to one of the world’s grand venues. The New York Yankees and the New York Giants have both won their home games, so in a sports’ sense the City has been abuzz with that energy. And at the same time the City hosted large peace and environmental demonstrations so the tens of thousands who attended the gatherings are adding another, albeit different ingredient to the “buzz.” But probably the most noteworthy piece of the buzz is being fueled by the fact that we have just this evening begun the bombings in the Middle East as a response to the current ISIS threat. Although this is not directly within the City limits, it’s not difficult to imagine that (especially happening only several weeks post the 9/11 remembrance), the events are having a particular effect on the City’s spirit.

Being a native “New Yorker” I’m finding myself in the swirl of these emotions. This is especially so, as much of my work centers on issues tied to our on-going social, political and economic concerns, concerns that oftentimes seem too much to internalize. And amidst all this, I can’t help but recall the sentiments I relayed in a piece that was written over a decade ago. It was done with an eye towards our Middle East conflicts as they began back then, and I think its essence remains as it was. So please take a read. And importantly, while doing so, I hope you have a moment to consider how we might better hold those who are in positions of influence more accountable for that influence – not for the “left” or “right” of the policies they may endorse, but for what they are doing for US.

Go Get’em Boys**

You know, I grew up in an era that fostered suspicion about the military. I mean a day couldn’t go by in the 1960s without some journalist or TV news-reader raising a question as to what the Pentagon planners were plotting next. If it wasn’t Vietnam, then it was our military being used to quell riots in our own city streets, or being used to promote another coup in another Third World country. Then there was our untrustworthy and suspect political process for which the military was the might. And there were questions about the legal and educational systems and overall inequality, and these, too, tilted what the military seemed to be defending. On top of all this, very few individuals that I knew perceived military duty as something of substance. Rather, it was seen as something to be avoided if at all possible. (I myself was lucky in that my draft lottery number never got reached.)

Yet young men and women, most from poorer, less educated environments, found themselves fitting into uniforms that spoke to things like pride, honor and tradition. Hell, many of them died with that as part of their eulogy-despite the distrust and dislike that surrounded their efforts. As has been well documented it was a difficult time for both them and us.

It wasn’t until some twenty years later that I began to visit these sentiments again. It happened that I was offered a faculty position with a major university’s European, Middle East and Asian divisions, all of which were tied to a program that offered post-secondary opportunities to those who were in the military or who contracted with the U.S. in support of our overseas interests. With this position came the opportunity to get a very close look at the military, from its day-to-day routines, to its war objectives, to what its presence meant in the world. And this added a new dimension to what I had years before concluded.

In traveling amid the power that they (and simultaneously our citizenship) represent, I’ve come to see our military in a more complex way. Over the past years I’ve watched them at their work, with their families and among themselves. I’ve talked with them, from privates to generals, about their society, about war and about peace. Suffice it to say they are an interesting group, far from being dull, ignorant or blind to what they do. Most of them recognize their efforts in terms of our country’s economic interests – that is, that “making the world safe for democracy” is more of a political euphemism than anything else. And in this sense they are at the tip of our American dilemma: who are we and what are we doing in the world? Surely, like most of the American public, they can’t completely grasp the depth of the dilemma. Nonetheless they have a mission tied to it and they must stay focused accordingly, which means staying disciplined and ready in times of peace, and brave and strong in times of war. Obviously none of this is easy.

No doubt, war is stupid. And I am not a fan of it in any way. But it seems to be an outgrowth of the stupid part of human nature − nothing less than history has shown us that. In the name of God and man alike peace has not prevailed. Consequently the complexities of establishing and defending a system, any system for that matter, seem always at hand. And the need for the military goes on, “the stronger the better” remaining the call. It’s a paradox that is part of us – it shouldn’t be, but it is. So it goes for our military.

Thus, especially in these times, as I see the flag wave, or hear the songs sung, or as the jets fly over our pastimes, I feel it for “our boys.” Yet I’m scared for them as well. This is as much for the danger they face and the mandate they’ve been given, as it is for the nagging feeling that we lack an understanding about our issues at home, issues so closely tied to those dangers and their mandate. And I’m scared because the flag waving and song singing and jet flying should symbolize what was missing in our Vietnam effort, but I fear they don’t. In other words, the country may finally be in support of its military but, for the most part, it really doesn’t have a solid sense of itself or the problems it is facing. And unlike the 1960s no movement is addressing the related concerns of things linked to the ideals of democracy and the practicalities of capitalism. It seems it’s a twist on the situation from years ago, yet ironically the outcome could well be the same. Just as it was back then our troops’ thoughts and actions as they return may be sadly misunderstood.

Again, it’s a difficult time, for them and for us. I wish we knew more about our policies and practices, but we don’t. I hope the circumstances change, but I worry that they won’t. Nevertheless, in the midst of our serious struggles, I’ll say “God bless, good luck, and go get’em boys.”

**This piece was included in a chapter of my previous book, “Criminal to Critic-Reflections Amid The American Experiment,” Rowman and Littlefield Publishers. I would like to also reference another piece from that chapter, one written by a talented and weary teenager I met while in the Middle East. It certainly speaks for itself.

GONE

by Laila Yafi

In the starlight, a tear drop shines
Revealing love’s true divine
A lone child, sitting in the dark
All is gone, no more spark.

A ray of moonlight falls upon him
He clings to her empty dress
Wishing it could be full again
Filled with her warmth and life.

His mother’s spirit remains so strong
Yet their eyes shall never meet again
The haunt of loss has already set
A memory permanently etched.

Caught in silence, cemented in grief
The boy searches to find relief
But in life’s war she is gone forever
The cord of love so quickly severed.

Be brave young soldier.

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is the politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

November 8, 2014   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Connecting a Few Dots/Politics

Arctic Region Reference Map with place names from the UT Perry-Castaneda Library

Arctic Region Reference Map with place names from the UT Perry-Castaneda Library

Religion, Politics,

Oil & Gas

by Jim Palombo


In watching the Sunday morning news on BBC, CNN and FOX, I was once again struck by how important it is for our public to understand a broad range of topics in order to understand what is happening in the country and the world. Simultaneously I was again reminded of the rather poor job that is being done by our educational system in this regard, with not much help given by the political and media-based dialogue that fills the air.

Be that as it may, the three networks were referencing the problems in the Ukraine which included the divide between Western and Eastern Christianity, vis a vis the forceful historical differences among Catholics and Orthodox Christians, as well as the differing market interests at work in the region, best symbolized by the potential competition between the German-directed European Union and the Eurasian Union concept (the USSR reborn?) being proposed by Russian leader Vladimir Putin. It seems that for those so inclined to think about the situation, the religious and market differences are being used to fuel each other in ways that may not be the most beneficial to the actual people.

In short, the elements involved make the situation in that part of the world extremely complicated, chaotic and combustible. And although it seems we in the U.S. must do something, it appears highly unlikely that our involvement, diplomatic or otherwise, will have any appreciable, long-term impact. (Do the contemporary Middle East conflicts, ongoing for more than 50 years, come to mind?)

In any event it just so happened that I was watching these broadcasts in a coffee house in Queretaro, Mexico with a friend of mine who is a lawyer-lobbyist from Alaska. As we sat and listened and then chatted about how geopolitical conflicts seemed to be popping up everywhere, our focus shifted to talking about somewhat related situations tied to his work. Noting that it might come as a bit of surprise to most, he began to tell me about what was occurring in regards to the Arctic Summit and Arctic University – two organizations I had theretofore never heard of. And as I listened to his comments, and later proceeded to investigate them a bit more, I couldn’t help but want to pass along what I think are some very intriguing considerations.

First, the Arctic Summit represents a gathering of players from across the Northern part of the globe, including Russia, China, U.S./Alaska, Mongolia, Canada, Norway and Finland, all of whom are interested in the development of the resource rich Arctic. As one might guess, these interests have been tweaked by the ever-growing access to oil and mineral resources as the region thaws due to climate change. In essence, and amid conversation about environmental concerns, the situation represents a grand example of business/profit motive efforts capitalizing on a social concern, while trying not to be overly insensitive to what happens as a result.

The Arctic University is a loose knit cooperative network of universities and colleges with many of the same Summit players involved. Through university research endeavors, the objective is to keep developments in the region beneficial to the indigenous population. This of course sounds admirable but when coupled with the Arctic Summit efforts, it tends to make one wonder a bit about what might be seen as “beneficial” to the people who may actually find themselves at odds with the potential financial gains on the table.

Now what caught me off guard about all this was not so much that this was going on, but rather how little I knew of it. In short, it seems at times that there is a world of interests moving around the globe that is operating at another level from that which most of us are involved. And this of course lends itself to the idea expressed by many who when challenged that we need to better understand the world (as I tend to do) remark “what difference does it make anyway.”

In short, it was an afternoon of talking about how the world is changing, how interests are being aligned, how a geopolitical fog seems to have developed over the goings-on of big business and what the bulk of the population actually knows or doesn’t know, and if indeed this really matters. So this piece was offered not only in the sense of reviewing a few current events, but to also point out that we seem, at many turns, in a real knowledge pickle – almost as if we are damned if we do know and damned if we don’t. As always, your comments in this light are most welcomed.

** As two other follow-up “dots” – Alaskan Public Media reported that John Kerry announced the appointment of a special envoy/counsel/ambassador to the Arctic region, out of concern over potential environmental problems. Clearly there will be environmental problems but one has to wonder to what extent our government’s action is more about our lessening control over global financial interests and what may come from the on-going economic development of oil and mineral resources in the Arctic. (Keep in mind that Russia is the major supplier of oil to China. What develops via the Arctic Summit could well fuel even more power in terms of this relationship. ) And Joshua Keating’s article in Slate magazine highlights what is occurring in the Antarctic, with its estimated 203 billion barrels of oil, the third largest reserve in the world. The gist of Mr. Slate’s piece is that although there are international restrictions in place in terms of actually developing the Antarctic resources, research stations with their obvious link to future economic development, are permitted. And although countries like Britain, Argentina, Australia, France and the U.S. have research stations there, it is China that outdistances them all, with four already in place and a fifth on the way. As the current developmental restrictions come up for review in 2048 this obviously raises a number of speculative possibilities. Certainly speculation, but given what is happening in the Arctic, it appears that it’s left to the public to connect the dots accordingly.

About the author:

Jim Palombo is the politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 28, 2014   Comments Off on Connecting a Few Dots/Politics

Jonathan Alpeyrie/Photographer Interview

Local Ukrainians buried after gun battle

©2014 Jonathan Alpeyrie

April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine: Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. Here, family members of Sasha, the youngest man killed in the gun battle, are seeing his dead body for the first time. The circumstances of their deaths are unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blame on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region.

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“Journalism”

&

the Conflict in Ukraine

with Mike Foldes

Born in Paris in 1979, Jonathan Alpeyrie moved to the United States in 1993. He graduated from the French high school of New York City in 1998, before going to the University of Chicago to study medieval history. Jonathan started his career shooting for local Chicago newspapers during his undergraduate years. He did his first photo essay in 2001 while traveling in the South Caucasus. In addition to Ukraine, he has photographed conflicts in South Caucasus, East Africa, Nepal, Mexico, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. Alpeyrie is a staff photographer for Polaris Images. His work has been published in Paris Match, Aftenposten, Time, Newsweek, Wine Spectator, Boston Globe, Glamour, BBC World, Popular Photography, The New York Times, VSD, American Photo and ELLE. A photography book about WWII veterans with Verve Editions is in the works, and scheduled to come out next year. 

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Q: In a recent statement that appeared in L’Oeil de la Photographie, you wrote, “The Western press does not understand the nature of the conflict: I was more appalled by the lack of understanding by the Western press who was convinced that Russia was the enemy, and furthermore, that the Western powers were right to intervene. As always the reality on the ground is different from what the general public is being fed by the mainstream media.”Can you please explain “the reality on the ground”?

A)The reality on the ground is, first and foremost, a historical one. In 988 AD, Rus king Vladimir the Great of Kiev converted, and his people, to Byzantine Orthodoxy in the region, creating a Christian state in what is now Eastern Ukraine. Today, for locals, this historical founding moment is still of great importance as it unifies the Slavic civilization. Therefore, a division within this entity is indeed a very difficult notion to accept for many Eastern Ukrainians and Russians alike, as it would be seen as truly illogical proposition.These historical implications cannot and should not be discarded by Western powers, and the ever powerful mainstream media. It is, in fact, an oddity to think that they both are willing to put aside these considerations, as Western Europe as well as the United States are also Christian nations.This lack, and this unwillingness to understand the past, especially for the US government and most of its media, has lead to much misinterpretation of what Russia is, and what it is trying to become. As it is true for the United States, Mr. Putin defends his country’s interest, and its place in the world. What would the United States say and do if Russia would today, directly challenge America’s zone of influence in Asia, like Japan or the Philippines, or even challenge its hegemony in Mexico, right on its border? I assure you, the United States would not allow it. Well, the situation in Eastern Ukraine is no different: the Eastern Ukraine was shaped by Russia. Not the West.Though I fully understand that geopolitical logics are in place in this crisis, and the US, aided by its smaller less significant ally, Western Europe (maybe with the exception of Merkel’s Germany, who is a close ally to Russia), I am also appalled by the mainstream media’s lack of seriousness, let alone its inability to remain neutral. Though it is safe to say that most mainstream media leans on the political left, which by essence proves its illegitimacy as an impartial entity, it also copies from each other most information spread around by social media and incompetent reporters. I will say it again, a journalist with no historical understanding of the region he works in, makes him a bad journalist. And there are many.

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V10N4 Jonathan Alpeyrie

Portfolio of photographs from the conflict in Ukraine, 2014. Copyright Jonathan Alpeyrie. Courtesy of the photographer and Polaris Images.

[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-uprising-jan-2014_0.jpg]240005_Kiev Standoff
January 30, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Anti-government groups have barricaded entire streets to keep away police forces loyal to the Yanukovych government. Heavy clashes between both parties has left its marks on the area, with destroyed vehicules, assault resistant barricades, and burned tires. The standoff between both parties has shown that no one is ready to give way for a true compromise. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-uprising-feb-2014_0.jpg]200010_Kiev Protest
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Ukraine has been hit by more than two months of unrest following a decision by president Viktor Yanukovish not to pursue trade and other deals with the EU. After days of clashes, the EU and the USA are moving torwards economic sanctions. Opposition leaders have agreed with such a move, which, they say, would bring further attention to their struggle. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kiev-ukraine-women-feb-2014_0.jpg]240007_Women of the Revolution
February 5, 2014, Kiev, Ukraine. Women are marching for peace near the barricades. After months of protest in Maiden Square thousands of Ukrainian nationals, from all over Ukraine, have volunteered to help in anyway possible. Hundreds of Ukrainian women have also joined in to help. Some by cooking food for the men outside, others by organizing the struggle through the web. Some even have been forming a para-military unit. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-uklraine-april-2014_0.jpg]160009_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Police riot is retreating inside the building after being attacked. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-gas-april-2014_0.jpg]170008_Donetsk Breakup
April 28, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Pro-Kiev protestors rally in the center of town in order to show their support for the current government. Only a few hundred strong, they decide to move and take their protest through the streets of Donetsk, where hundreds of pro-Russian separatists are waiting for them. Clashes quickly fallow, with the police barely getting involved as most of them are pro-Russian. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-militia-april-2014.jpg]140016_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Armed separatists are attending the burial of the men killed in their village. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-maidan-fighters-april-2014_0.jpg]110003_Ukraine Breakup
April 19, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Masked men are guarding the area near the occupied administration building. Ukraine's foreign minister has said that operations against pro-Russian militants in the Eastern part of the country have been suspended over Easter. However, the stalemate remains between Kiev and pro-Russian separatists. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-throwing-bricks-april-2014_0.jpg]60008_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_donetsk-ukraine-police-line-may-2014_0.jpg]60020_Donetsk Breakup
May 1, 2014, Donetsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A police officer is trying to reason with attacking pro-Russians. Hundreds of pro-Russian militants have seized the regional prosecutor's office in the city of Donetsk. The attackers hurled Molotov Cocktails and rocks at the riot police guarding the building, promptly forcing the police to retreat inside the building. The separatists then attacked the building in forces, suffering a few injuries in the process. Once inside the building riot police started to surrender in mass to the attacking pro-Russian men, who quickly took all of their equipment . (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-carrying-casket-april-2014_0.jpg]60009_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The bodies of the men killed during the gun battle are being taken outside for the crowd to see. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-russian-position-april-2014_0.jpg]60015_Slavyansk
April 21, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. An armed pro-Russian gunman is standing guard in front of the administration building they captured 2 weeks before. Fifty miles north of Donetsk, the town of Slavyansk is under the control of heavily armed pro-Russian gunmen who say they want a referendum on the region's status. After a deadly shooting the previous night, the separatist "people's mayor", Vyachelav Ponomarev imposed a curfew and issued an appeal to Russian to send troops. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-service-april-2014_0.jpg]80004_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Slavyansk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_slavyansk-ukraine-soldier-in-field-may-2014_0.jpg]100001_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Slaviansk Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A Ukrainian soldier is taking position at a roadblock during clashes in a near by village. Ukrainian troops fought pitched gun battles monday with pro-Russian militias around Slavyansk. In the mean time, the government in Kiev has been tighting its grip around the rebel city by adding new roadblocks ever closer to the city itself. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-body-may-2014_0.jpg]90007_Donetsk Breakup
May 3, 2014, near Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. A separatist was shot dead by pro Kiev forces during a attack on a bridge. The Ukrainian military is continuing its military operations around the rebel held cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk. Swift armored raid are launched, now each day on rebel positions, inflicting casualties, both civilians and separatists. As a defense measure the pro-Russians burn their tires to cover their retreats. Today, in and around Kramatorsk rebel positions were hit by these raids killing perhaps as much as 6 people, triggering a gun battles on the streets of that city. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-2-may-2014_0.jpg]70011_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_kramatorsk-ukraine-may-2014_0.jpg]90014_Donetsk Breakup
May 5, 2014, Kramatorsk, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. The family of the late Julia is morning during the funeral at a local cemetary. Locals are participating in the funeral of a young 21 year old girl, called Julia, who was shot and killed alongside two men while driving their car in the middle of a gun battle which took place in the center of town between advancing government troops and pro-Russian militias. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)
[img src=http://old.ragazine.cc/wp-content/flagallery/v10n4-jonathan-alpeyrie/thumbs/thumbs_aleksandrovka-ukraine-home-april-2014.jpg]200018_Ukrainian Burial
April 22, 2014, Aleksandrovka, Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine. Family member of the youngest man killed in the gun battle, called Sasha, are seing his dead body for the first time. Three men from the small village of Aleksandrovka are being buried after a ceremony at the main church of Slavyansk after they were killed during a gun battle at a checkpoint near their village. The circumstances of their death remains unclear, though Russia and Kiev are trading blames on the incident, hence further escalating tensions in the Donetsk region. (Jonathan Alpeyrie)

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I have experienced on many occasions events which have made me doubt the legitimacy of the press world when it comes to world affairs. After covering over a dozen wars, I have never been confronted to such spreading of misinformation directed to the public, who after all, does not need to be influenced in one way or the other when it comes to current affairs: it is for the reader and the viewer to decide for himself. Dictatorships begin in such ways. History has proved many times over. During my four weeks in the Dombass region covering the crisis there, over 90% of foreign journalists were openly against Putin’s Russia, and therefore agreed with the Maidan movement. Not only is it not the role of these journalists to put forward their personal preferences, it is their role to let the readers decide. Furthermore, I was also very surprised to see that a lot of information taken by the media came from Twitter, Facebook, and other social media outlets. Because of its nature, and its propaganda use, social media should never constitute a valuable source of information for any major media. Every morning, Tweets and pro-Maidan Facebook posts, as well as pro-Russian hashtags, influenced the way the crisis was being perceived in the Western world, and often mainstream media outlets took this information and published it! For instance, one morning it read from Twitter: 30 dead in clashes between pro-Keiv and pro-Russian troops. It happened that I was there during the gun battle, and only three people died. The pro-Kiev faked the number in order to show that pro-Russians were killing countless innocent civilians, while pro-Russians used the same casualty count to show that Kiev was also killing left and right. In this crisis, it is mostly a war of information in order to influence one side, while demonizing the other. Too many times the media fell into that trap while reporting false information, which can still be read on the web, on their websites. I once called my contacts at the BBC to retrieve information that was false, which had been reported by a BBC journalist who was not even on site when the event happened, but was reporting from Kiev! The press should not be a tool for propaganda, which often favors government foreign policy, but a force meant to debate and engage in conversation. It seems that the main stream media has forgotten its primary purpose, and many journalists should remember that important fact. The Ukraine is a perfect example of that. From the beginning the Maidan movement was pure and fair, while Russia was evil and wrong to even pretend to exercise its power. Not once there was a discussion about Russia’s legitimacy and its historical connection to the Ukraine. Russia is not an enemy, and quite easily Mr. Obama and his administration could have come up with a deal that would have made everyone happy. Instead, the US administration has increased its sanctions, further humiliating the Russians. I cannot help to make the comparison between the humiliation suffered by the Germans after the end of WWI with the treaty of Versailles, which is a direct consequence of the looming next world conflict. Russia is a powerful nation, with a deep sense of history and pride. This needs to be respected.

Q) How do you respond to those who say the contemporary historical reference is that Ukraine (and Crimea) were legally established and internationally recognized as independent states upon dissolution of the USSR, and their status should remain as such? And, if Putin’s Russia and the EU are co-existing, why would there be such resistance for Ukraine to strengthen economic and political ties with EU?

A) Again, history and demographics are what we should be looking at. Ukraine was reconquered by the Red army from German forces in 1944. Furthermore, an estimated 60% of the 2.7 million inhabitants are Russians, and about 26% are Ukrainians. And finally, Russia has had military bases long before the Ukraine became independent. Therefore it was, de facto Russian land. The international community did not dispute the annexation for all of the reasons stated above. Besides, there was no military contest coming from the Kiev government. It is only the Western part of the Ukraine that wants to join the EU. Historically, Western influence, like Poland, has had a big impact in that part of the Ukraine, formatting a very different mentality in the region. The East has always looked toward Russia, not Europe. One has to remember that the Maidan movement represents a small minority of people, not a majority like the press and some Western government would like us to believe. However, I certainly do not understand why there should be a divide between the West and Russia. We are all Christian nations with a common history and destiny. Mr. Putin wants nothing more than to allow a great Northern alliance to finally take shape. Though it is true that Europe has reached a post-Christian era, for the Russians, however, religion and traditions still matter.

Q) So, you are putting this into the context of a religious conflict, and not the result of economic difficulties, oil interests, or strategic geography?

A) All of the above are true. However, the interesting thing about the religious aspect is the view these Eastern Ukrainians have of us, modern Westerners. For them, it is hard to understand what we have become, both morally and religiously. During my time in the region many pro-Russians perceive the West as a decadent society, a post-Christian society, where old traditions which had once found common ground between Europe and Russia, are quickly disappearing. For locals, these old Christian traditions with the belief of God, and family, are setting apart these two worlds: Religion and all its implications do matter enormously in the region. Religion is one vector which opposes these two worlds, one that has moved away from its Greek/Christian roots, while the other still sees itself has a religious entity defined by the Orthodoxy.

Q) You began by saying that reporters who have no historical knowledge or perspective should not be allowed to report on important issues as these. What can networks and news agencies do to make sure their people on the ground — and their editors back in the office — get things objectively correct?A) I do believe that it is crucial that reporters on the ground have a strong sense of history, not only in the region where they work, but also in general. Historical knowledge brings sensitivity to the journalist and a sense of neutrality needed to remain objective: Bashing the Russians and Putin constantly will not help in that regard. One has to remember the trauma lived by Russians and their neighbors during WWII: An estimated 25 million dead were suffered during the great patriotic war of 1941/45. We cannot blame the Russians for their mistrust towards the West, though it was more then 70 years ago, these events are still very present in people’s minds.

Jonathan, thank you very much!

…………………………………………………………………………………….

All photographs courtesy of Jonathan Alpeyrie.

Find out more: http://www.jonathanalpeyrie.net/

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About the Interviewer:  Michael Foldes is founder and managing editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in “About Us.” The foregoing interview was conducted via e-mail in June 2014. 

 

June 26, 2014   Comments Off on Jonathan Alpeyrie/Photographer Interview

Jim Palombo: On Race & Racism


The Bill of Rights

Library of Congress image.

Is there some semblance of sense
to the sensationalism of stupidity?

By Jim Palombo

 “America isn’t the same country anymore; it isn’t even America anymore. It’s become a goddamn pesthole for every crummy race from the other side.  A white man can’t walk down the street, or go in a restaurant, or do business, or do anything for that matter without having to mix up with these goddamn greasers from the other side.  Wops, Jews, Greeks, Niggers, Armenians, Syrians, every scummy race in the world. They’ve all come here, and they’re still coming, and they’ll keep on coming by the boatloads. Mark my words, you’ll see the day when a real American won’t have a chance to work and live decently in his own country, a day when ruin and bankruptcy will fall on this nation because all these damned foreigners will have taken everything over and made a holy mess of it.”

Characterization from Jack Kerouac’s “The Haunted Life”, 1944

It’s race and racism, the application of freedom of speech, and a few “expectation of privacy” issues that are on the table – it’s a big deal. Yet, it’s not like we haven’t been down these roads before.  Perhaps it’s the rather unique hauntedcombination of things, with a rather bizarre billionaire at the forefront who just happens to like certain type women, and who owns a basketball franchise in a major city, who happens to employ predominantly minority ball players on that team but who also apparently doesn’t cotton to their kind. Or perhaps it’s the “tailor-made for the press” tale –after all, they certainly know how to tell (and re-tell) a story, especially knowing how much we appreciate a good one.  Or perhaps it’s a good opportunity for the ever-growing number of sportscasters to join the late night pundits in demonstrating their acumen for understanding complex social issues – “educating the public” to important things, as one of them might say. And of course, perhaps it’s a chance for every public policy figure and politician, whether on one side, the other or both, to offer their input on what all of them consider an example of the misunderstandings rampant in contemporary America.

In essence, the “big deal” is that it’s telling us once again something about our current status, our collective self-identity, if you will. In short, it’s not so much what we know but what we don’t know, or at least how ineffective we seem to be in organizing our thoughts relative to our history and the contemporary issues that have followed from that history. After all this time, you think we would know better – that we would not be so eager to feed the Donald Sterling-like frenzies that seem to pop up a great deal more than they should.  So in regard to the current “flavor of the month,” here are just a few points to consider.

Talking about race does not imply racism. In other words, if one were to mention that race has its place when discussing both individual and societal properties, i.e., things like what motivates behavior, how biological characteristics might play themselves out in any particular circumstance, poverty, education, or whatever, this does not make that person a racist. In other words, talking about these variables could very well relate to one’s interest in understanding the complexity of human beings and how difficult human actions and relations can be. In simply considering any meaningful discussion involving the social sciences it’s clear that this type dialogue is relevant.  In this context, and rather than try to eliminate or even minimize the dialogue, especially in the face of its significance, our concern should be pointed at the public policy that could flow from what we might learn about racial differences. In other words, the fact that one race is different from the other should not be translated into policy that speaks to changing that race into something that it isn’t, or trying to deny individual opportunities based on race, or worse, trying to eliminate that race from the societal mix. (By the way, all of this applies to gender and sexism as well.)

Unfortunately, it seems that important conversations about race get run directly into racist lines via these public policy options.  Given this, it becomes important to understand what race actually is, that racial differences do indeed exist and that we need to be careful on how we approach these facts in sculpting just and fair public policy.  This would certainly go a long way in diffusing the tensions that seem to continually erupt in rather destructive fashion and overall help to ensure that we are attentive to having a sound, civic-minded society.

Obviously this entire suggestion demands that discussions of this type not only happen, but that they be held in a place where we can hope to develop a better understanding of our past, current and future struggles with the matters at hand. In short, the discussions should be happening throughout our educational processes. This of course would both reinforce the topic’s importance and it would also keep the public from spending its time attempting to untangle what is and isn’t, through the Sterling-type conflicts that tend to leave us with only a collective black eye.

With much the same logic in mind the 1st amendment’s guarantee of free speech is also a very complicated issue. In short, trying to balance what anyone can say, whether in a public forum or not or whether a public figure or not, in the context of having a civil, safe and progressive society is as difficult as it sounds.  Here again, given the importance of the concerns on the table, this should be an on-going discussion in our educational arenas.  And I would also suggest that the “expectation of privacy” issues connected to the 4th amendment’s search and seizure concerns also be given the same attention in the educational arena.  Here again, the notion of having the kind of society we want is in balance, so understanding the basics of what can, might and should be considered “private”, especially in our highly advanced, technological society, needs to be addressed in environments that speak to both education and civic dialogue.

Trying to hold Sterling accountable for his personal beliefs, especially in the context of his business ventures, which include the employment of a large number of minorities (at a rather high rate of pay), involves complicated concerns, and it’s not likely the result will be anything as punitive as the initial outcry implied. In any event, it would seem as important to focus energy in ways that might better service the public good.  In this regard, this piece opened with what could be considered a “sterling” example for the bigotry and racism that continues to this day. In reality not much can be done with this type of personal attitude, save to place it in its proper societal frame of reference. And we must stay vigilant in this regard.

So I’ll leave you with more of the same from another famous American’s writings, writings which might surprise some of you a bit. They, too, underscore that the complex dangers of race and racist dialogue have run across all levels of our society in all manner of ways.  Again, given what we see today, it’s more than questionable as to whether our attention to these dangers has been adequately focused. In other words, educational leaders take heed.

Henry Ford

“…the genius of the Jew is to live off people, not off the land, nor off the production of commodities from raw materials, but off the people. Let other people till the soil; the Jew, if he can, will live off the tiller. Let other people toil at the trades and manufacture; the Jew will exploit the fruits of their work. That is his particular genius. If this genius be described as ‘parasitic’, the term would seem to be justified by a certain fitness.

“Until the Jews can show that the infiltration of foreign Jews and the Jewish Idea into the American labor movement has made for the betterment in character and estate, in citizenship and economic statesmanship, the charge of being an alien, destructive and treasonable influence will have to stand.”

Excerpts from Henry Ford’s anti-Semitic rant “The International Jew”, published in 1921.

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 8, 2014   Comments Off on Jim Palombo: On Race & Racism

REPORT: European Parliament 2014

Hemicycle

The Hemicycle meeting hall for Parliament at headquarters in Strasbourg.

The Final Session

of the European Parliament

Before Elections

News & Photos from the Chamber
by Miklós Horváth

Between 14 and 17 April 2014 the European Parliament (EP) held its last plenary session before May’s European elections. The final parliamentary session of the 7th legislature opened with a minute’s silence marking the 20th anniversary of Rwanda’s genocide and remembering the victims who were murdered in the African country. At the very beginning of the session Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) stressed their dissatisfaction with Russia’s occupation of the Crimea. They restated that Russia’s recent annexation of the territory was against its international commitments as well as international law.

In their arguments, politicians referred to the possible breach of the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances by the Russian Federation as the document had been created to preserve the territorial integrity and political independence of certain countries of the Balkans, including Ukraine, against threats, and was originally signed by the USA, the UK, as well as Russia. Concerning Crimea, EP President Martin Schulz urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine and make efforts to safeguard peace in the region. Schulz evoked many resolutions which were voted by the EP in the last few months to support Ukraine in preserving its sovereignty and territorial integrity. He mentioned an EU trade agreement aiming to boost Ukraine’s economic prosperity as well as several financial aid programs. He also voiced his satisfaction with the Ukraine government’s efforts to restore stability and expressed his hope that Ukraine’s upcoming national elections would be free and fair.

On the third day of the plenary session MEPs from different political groups held a debate on Russia’s pressure on the EU’s Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine following the Crimean crisis. They discussed their opinions on the situation at hand and those economic sanctions they believed should be taken against Russia to slow down its endeavors to grab territories in Ukraine – the endeavor that might stem from Russia’s great power identity/hegemony and its national interests, which are all applied in conducting its foreign policy objectives in this particular geopolitical space, the so-called “near abroad”. Understanding the situation from the Russian perspective, what Russia does today is sending out a message to the West with regard to what it considers its own sphere of influence as a great power (see: Ria Laenen’s “Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad”). While, on the other hand, European leaders continuously express their dissatisfaction, as they would be rather pleased to see Ukraine closer to the EU than to the Russian Federation, being convinced that European values should spread and prevail in the Eastern part of Europe, as well.

Rights & Values

After Stefan Füle’s, Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighbourhood Policy, opening speech MEPs had one to two minutes to share their opinions on the crisis in the chamber. Some paid particular attention to European values and minority rights in Ukraine while others were discussing Russia’s escalations to use of force in the past recalling the Georgian-Russian conflict in South Ossetia and Abkhazia among many other incidents. As the most proper solution to the Ukraine crisis was not found during the debate, many MEPs expressed their hope that the Geneva meeting of top diplomats on Ukraine, organized in Switzerland right after the Strasbourg plenary sitting, was able to provide better guidelines for an agreement to ease the tensions between the West and Russia.

In the EP chamber, politicians clearly demonstrated their commitments to assist Ukraine with peaceful conflict resolution and to defend human rights, the rule of law and democratic values within its territory. By doing this they undoubtedly reaffirmed the EU’s role as a normative power and a mediator in world politics. This is, of course, very necessary in a time when Europe’s legitimacy of setting regulatory standards as well as the notion of the EU as a value-based community are questioned by the resurgence of manifestations of anti-semitism, xenophobia, discrimination, racism or Euroscepticism as consequences of the economic crisis (and as recently discussed by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe in a detailed report).

Euro Par V10N3

Miklos Horvath reports on the European Parliament's 2014 session as a representative from Ragazine.CC.

Banking & Finance

The second major topic for discussion at the EP was the setting up of new regulations in the banking sector as well as the enhancement of a banking union. The parliament adopted three measures. Two were dealing with the restructuring of troubled banks requiring financial institutions to have special plans for the worst and unexpected scenarios, while the third was implemented to ensure that banks, not the taxpayers, guaranteed deposits under €100,000 in an event of the risk of failure. The third regulation, namely the deposit guarantee scheme was already in place in some way but was updated to further protect depositors and taxpayers. These measures along with other full-fledged regulations might prepare the EU to strengthen and complement the existing pillars (i.e. the single bank supervision system) of a genuine banking union in the near future.

Lessons of War

The third major issue for debate was the First World War, the lessons to be learned from the devastation and the future of Europe. The debate was opened by EP President Martin Schulz, Evangelos Venizelos, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Greece speaking on behalf of the Council of the European Union (as Greece is currently holding the Presidency of the Council of the European Union up until July 2014) and the President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso. After their speeches, the chairs of the major political groups in the European Parliament discussed what Europe learned or should have learned from WWI.

Many of them expressed that the member states of the EU should continue their co-operation in the future to maintain peace and competitiveness, and to proceed towards a higher level of integration. They called for the curbing of nationalism, creating stronger integration, more common policies and support for the community-based interest – as only a closely integrated community could assume and exercise serious power on the international stage in the 21st century. Contrary to these aspirations, MEPs like Nigel Farage (co-chair of EFD) and Daniël van der Stoep (NI) stressed their convictions that citizens would need stronger nation states rather than a powerful European Union.

Human Rights, Environment

During the plenary, the EP passed three resolutions concerning human rights violations in North Korea, Pakistan and Syria to support the UN to set up special structures for investigation. It decided that certain harmful psychoactive substances should be withdrawn from the EU market to protect the safety of citizens, particularly young people. MEPs also concluded a reform to the fisheries policy, introduced a structural change to the EU aid system to be delivered faster and effectively to disaster-stricken EU or EU candidate countries, adopted measures to stop the spread of invasive alien species and draft rules to reduce the use of the most polluting plastic bags in the community. Other regulations and draft laws concerning food and product safety, investment, environment protection, EU budget, economic development and the freedom of movement were also adopted.

The final parliamentary session was running with a packed agenda as MEPs decided on a considerably large amount of issues directly influencing the everyday life of EU citizens. Even though the EP was very active in adopting regulations in the last 5 years, this EU institution still suffers from a serious democratic deficit due to the fact that citizens are not well-informed about the content of the measures passed in the chamber on a monthly basis. The small amount of information and education provided to citizens leads to the declining of their interest in EU affairs and a low-turnout for EP elections. We might experience this again in May when European elections will take place. The next plenary sitting will be held in July in Strasbourg soon after the members of the new European Parliament have been directly elected by the citizens of the 28 member states of the EU.

From now on, the new parliament will have less MEPs in accordance with the Treaty of Lisbon than it had in the previous years. Considering the power of the EP as one of the EU’s main law-making institutions, along with the Council of the European Union, deciding over the very future of European integration; and the fact that after the 2014 EP elections the President of the European Commission will most probably be coming from the largest European political group enjoying the strongest support of citizens, two things are quite disappointing: one is the decline in participation of EU citizens in European elections [voter turnout decreased from 62% in 1979 (EU9) during the first direct elections to the EP to a record-low of 43% in 2009 (EU27) in the most recent European elections] explaining why EP elections are often characterized as second-order elections subordinate to national elections (the so-called first-order elections). The other alarming trend is the growing support of citizens for Eurosceptic parties.

About the author:

Miklós Horváth is a Master’s student at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven). He was also educated at ELTE Budapest, Tartu, Maastricht and Leiden University. He completed internships at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, Portage Rehabilitation Centre in Canada and at the European Parliament’s Directorate General for Communication. He published articles in more than six print journals ranging from literature to politics. His previous contributions to Ragazine.CC include:
http://old.ragazine.cc/2011/06/horvathart-july-2011/
http://old.ragazine.cc/2011/07/elmgreen-dragset-july-2011/
http://old.ragazine.cc/2012/02/murray-gaylard/

Recommended Sources

Newsletter – 14-17 April 2014 – Strasbourg plenary session
http://bit.ly/1rkQ4vY

Joint statement, Geneva meeting on the situation in Ukraine:
http://eeas.europa.eu/statements/docs/2014/140417_01_en.pdf

Report by the Secretary General of the Council of Europe (CoE) Thorbjørn Jagland: “Europe in biggest human rights crisis since Cold War”
http://bit.ly/1eD6XRX

Russian pressure on Eastern Partnership countries and in particular the destabilization of Eastern Ukraine, EPTV in full with English translation
http://bit.ly/1lCctTQ

100 years on from the First World War: lessons to learn and future of Europe (debate), EPTV in full with English translation
http://bit.ly/QDxnIr

Never again? Debate to mark WW1 centenary
http://bit.ly/1lgddxN

European Parliament elections May 2014
http://www.elections2014.eu/en

Insecurity, austerity and growing extremism in the EU
http://bit.ly/QwjU5g

The 2009 Elections to the European Parliament Country Reports
http://bit.ly/1idrGg6

Eurobarometer Report: Post-electoral survey 2009
http://bit.ly/QwjYCc

Ria, Laenen (2012). Russia’s Vital and Exclusive National Interests in the Near Abroad, In. Maria Raquel, Freire and Roger E, Kanet (2012). Russia and its Near Neighbors. Palgrave.
http://www.palgrave.com/PDFs/9780230390171.pdf

Eurobarometer 76: 2011: Level of Information on European Matters: A clear Majority of Respondents still believe that they are ill-informed about European matters
http://bit.ly/1iIjvXJ

Information about the European Parliament headquarters building in Strasbourg:
http://bit.ly/1lDhJLc

CaptureWikipedia diagram, click to enlarge.

 


April 28, 2014   Comments Off on REPORT: European Parliament 2014

Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo

democracy

 Library of Congress Collection

* *

“Deep State”

by J. Palombo

There are a number of problems facing the country today and the “deep state” topic underscores this point. A special thanks to Henry Giroux for his contributing piece, the important considerations he raises speak for themselves. Enjoy the provocative reads and as always your comments and questions are most welcome.

 

* * * * *

The term “deep state” refers to a political agenda that operates by means of a deep-seated allegiance to nationalism, corporatism and/or state interests. A simple Wikipedia search will show that the term has its history tied to the Turkish military that controlled political leadership there in the last century.  One might notice its current use particularly in the context of the Egyptian military’s powerful control of the political and economic processes in that country. The reach of this control extends into actual business interests/investment in water, gas, tourism and other economic enterprises, investments that translate into political influence on a variety of levels. And, given the covert and overt measures that are used to maintain this power, it appears impossible to escape the policy objectives tied to the military interests, no matter who gets elected or what political ideas are presented to the people.

Of course this all points to a perilous situation, which is evident in what we see happening in Egypt today. This “deep state” of affairs brings to mind our own concerns regarding what President Eisenhower first termed as the military industrial complex – where the development and maintenance of a large military as well as war itself happens with a focus on profit rather than on security interests.  Although clearly a danger in terms of both political and economic agendas, there is a difference in the Egyptian circumstance. This is primarily so as the military there is more in a position to wield power over the political processes via its direct economic interests/investments.  Nonetheless, the comparison is certainly a point to reference.

Having made the “deep state” concept clear, I would like to present its application in another way, one not often considered but one which could be argued is as damaging as the one referenced above. To begin, let me note that over the past quarter century I’ve been involved with attempting to bring to the attention of the American public the fact that we have not adequately come to grips with the nature of our capitalist identity. This effort, rising out of my own personal and professional experiences with our “American experiment,” has involved writing books and articles, holding discussions with both public and private individuals and groups, integrating related material in classroom lectures, developing a website and reaching out to hundreds of people and organizations on both sides of the political spectrum involved with trying to make America “a better society.” Now one might think that this effort wouldn’t result in any grand struggle, after all it’s obvious that almost all we do and consider, in both public and private venues and across all of our institutions, is tied to market-related, capitalist variables. But, even though I’ve gotten a fair share of positive encouragement (no one has dismissed the importance of what’s being referenced) it has been/continues to be a grand struggle indeed.

This has happened in large part due to our understanding that the country most predominantly represents a democracy, which to some extent is true. But we are also very much linked to the elements of capitalism – in fact we are the most advanced capitalist system in the world. Yet, outside the language of it being a free market, supply and demand system, we tend not to discuss capitalism in its fullest content (including its critical analyses) nor with any national consistency, even given its significance. Therefore, even though the influence of capitalism is evident on every level of our society (consider work, the media, the law, politics and daily personal decisions just to name a few) we are left in situation where there is ignorance and confusion over what this might actually mean. And of course this has a significant effect on our ability to understand and address both national and international concerns.  (And it also hampers our ability to comprehend what other countries might be doing.)

In essence then there is a gap in our understanding relative to measuring our country in terms of the practicalities of capitalism as opposed to the ideals of democracy, a gap which makes the work focused on making America a better nation more difficult than it already is. Take for example the work designed to address social issues like crime, employment, education, and poverty. In an “unaware atmosphere,” it makes it very difficult to first offer analyses of the problems and then to discuss any meaningful ways to rectify those problems. In effect, we seem to be existing one step above where the rubber actually meets the road, talking and working around concerns that should be clearly on the public table of understanding. And at the same time, we remain in a state where we are virtually controlled by economic elements without having the requisite information to understand the nature of this control. So it’s this combination of “the gap” and the simultaneous unwillingness to attempt to close it that gives rise to our version of “deep state.” (A fair comparison to trying to understand the country without talking about capitalism is trying to understand baseball without talking about the pitcher and the catcher. Leaving either mechanism unattended is simply nonsensical!)

It might occur at this point to ask, how did this circumstance develop?  In other words, how is it that a country so tied to the advent of modern capitalism could have a public so shrouded in mystery as to what this actually means, enough so that the “deep state” analogy could make sense? Well, there are several explanations and they are intricately tied to why there is such a struggle to bring the definitions of capitalism to the public table. It might be that, as Karl Marx suggested, a capitalist system grows so exploitive of the general public that those with the power will do anything, including deceiving others and manipulating the truth, to avoid “letting on” what is happening. For the most part this would help explain the “elitist” control of the wealth/power in our country as well the continuing vagaries of political and economic discussion that surround this control. (This raises the possibility that talking about democratic ideals is a ruse to cover the practicalities of capitalism.) Yet as easy as this “conspiracy” is to internalize, it seems difficult to accept, particularly as the sole explanation for our current situation.

In other words, taking into consideration our fortunate history, and given the substantial accomplishments as individuals and as a country in that context, it is fair to propose that we, as a public, simply came to believe too strongly in our democratic and economic freedom. In this light our spirit, energy and our prosperity became so ignited and fueled by our democratic and free market ideals that, even amidst our struggles (issues regarding equality via the civil war, the labor union struggles and the civil rights movement come immediately to mind), there appeared little room for seriously integrating alternative thought, especially thought that could be critical of what we so steadfastly believed. (It is important to note here that in terms of public awareness, a substantial part of our capitalist identity developed consistent with an animosity toward and outright fear of communism, particularly in the post World War II years.  And this, especially coupled with our post-war successes, proved to create an environment where developing a coherent and legitimate dialogue about capitalism seemed virtually impossible. On this point keep in mind that the concepts of socialism and communism grow out of Karl Marx’s critical analysis of capitalism. This means that it is an analysis that contributes to meaningful discussion about capitalism as well as socialism and communism. Yet a good number of people who don’t know any better tend to characterize those who discuss this significant analysis in terms of unpatriotic Marxists who want to turn American into a socialist or communist state. This is a ridiculous overstatement to say the least. Nonetheless, it is a notion that remains strong enough to have supported the fear that continues to stymie legitimate public discourse.)

So, in this light it can be argued that we, the public, cannot escape assuming a portion of the responsibility for our “deep state” state of affairs. This is especially so as we seem to be continuing on this course of ignoring what we see happening around us. Even with articulating things like: “the acknowledgement of ignorance paves the road toward wisdom” and espousing efforts that encourage “creative and outside-the-box” thinking, and emphasizing across the political and academic spectrum that we need to have more civically aware/responsible citizens, we remain stuck in terms of coming to grips with our own reality.

It hard to believe that we can/will stay in this “the world is flat” mindset much longer – the obviousness of the current economic crises as well as the poor market controls speak for themselves. Also, the continually developing growth models, like that of China, are pushing serious and long-term looks into the nature of capitalism. Said another way we, as a public, can hardly avoid taking on the task of examining all aspects of capitalism, especially given the issues and concerns we/the world must all face. (The recently released book by Orville Schell and John Delury, Wealth and Power – China’s Long March to the 21st Century, is a compelling review of what China has and is doing in terms of developing its current growth model. Suffice it to say, we could learn from/ borrow some important considerations from what is presented by the authors.)

Obviously the task ahead of us won’t be easy, especially in the sense of owning up to our own shortcomings. Yet there is a way to make the effort a bit easier to undertake. In essence, we can begin our work by recognizing ourselves as a young country, one whose history has been touched with great fortune, one that has allowed us to prosper to almost unparalleled levels of success. And like we would encourage any young person who has been so fortunate, we must be willing to assume more of the responsibility that should come with that good fortune. In other words, it’s time for us to grow up, to admire our accomplishments while also acknowledging the requisite responsibilities we must embrace as we move on. And in this context, whether Republican or Democrat (or whatever), this will demand that we take a hard look at our connection to capitalism, both on its own and its relatedness to democracy. There is simply no other way around this – it’s as clear as reminding ourselves that to make things work better, we must first understand how things work.

In a previous column, I noted several organizations that are currently at work asking the question, “What will it take for our democracy to work?” Implied in this question is the idea that we have to examine the elements that might be in the way of this happening. Of course, what we find out may not alter our course (hopefully it will) but we will at least be able to lay claim to the notion that we can make informed decisions regarding the pressing problems we face. In this light, I am hoping to continue to work with organizations like the National Issues Forum and the Kettering Foundation to integrate the concerns noted above with their mission of making our country better civically skilled through education and civic dialogue. As always, I promise to keep you posted as to what develops whatever the outcome. And on this point I hope that you too will do your best to be involved with how we might come to better understand our collective selves. For instance, simply asking those in the political or economic arenas or those in academia about these concerns would certainly help contribute to the motion we need to generate. Whatever course of action you take, consider that it may be up to the next generations to come up with better systems/models than those currently in use – but it is no doubt our responsibility to help dig us out of the hole we have, unwittingly or otherwise, helped create.

 

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

 

 

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3.CLOUGHCOLOUR2013

Jonathan Kelham Illustration

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March 1, 2014   Comments Off on Deep State/Politics-Jim Palombo

Deep State/Politics-Henry Giroux


occupy kieOccupy Website

The Specter of Authoritarianism

and the Politics of the “Deep State”

by Henry A. Giroux

Mike Lofgren, a former GOP congressional staff member for 28 years with the Senate and House Budget committees, has written an essay for Bill Moyers & Company titled “Anatomy of the ‘deep state’.”[1]  The notion of the “deep state” has a long genealogy and serves to mark the myriad ways in which power remains invisible while largely serving the interest of the financial elite, mega-corporations, and other authoritarian regimes of commanding power. The form the “deep state” takes depends upon the historical conjuncture in which it emerges and the forces that drive and benefit from it can either be at the margins or at the center of power and control.[2] The notion of the “deep state” also points to different configurations of power. President Eisenhower’s warning about the military-industrial complex is one example of the elements of the “deep state” ikethat emerged in the post-World War II period. Another register can be seen in the coming of age of corporate power in combination with various forms of religious, military, and educational fundamentalisms in which war becomes aligned with big business, corporate power replaces state-based political sovereignty, religious extremism shapes everyday policies, and the punishing state works in tandem with the devolution of the welfare or social state.

Lofgren argues that the “deep state” “has its own compass regardless of who is in power.”[3] This suggests that democracy itself and its modes of ideology, governance, and policies have been hijacked by forces that are as deeply anti-democratic as they are authoritarian. One instance of the undermining of democracy is evident in the overreach of presidential power by Obama is not only on full display, as Lofgren points out,  in the power of the government to “liquidate American citizens without due processes, detain prisoners indefinitely without charge, conduct dragnet surveillance on the American people without judicial warrant and engage in unprecedented—at least since the McCarthy era—witch hunts against federal employees (the so-called ‘Insider Threat Program,”[4] but also in the failure of  Republican and Democratic party members, with a few exceptions, to  raise their voices in opposition to this not so invisible form of authoritarian rule. The silence of the political and intellectual clerks speaks to more than a flight from moral, social, and political responsibility, it speaks directly to the political extremism that has imposed a new and savage order of cruelty and violence on vast members of the American public.

I am not quite sure what to say about Lofgren’s essay, because while I agree with much of it in pointing to the anti-democratic tendencies undermining democracy in the U.S., I find the language too constrained and the absences too disturbing.  The notion of the “deep state” may be useful in pointing to a new configuration of power in the United States in which corporate sovereignty replaces political sovereignty, but it is not enough to simply expose the hidden institutions and structures of power. What we have in the United States today is fundamentally a new mode of politics, one wedded to a notion of power removed from accountability of any kind, and this poses a dangerous and calamitous threat to democracy itself, because such power is difficult to understand, analyze, and duckcounter. The collapse of the public into the private, the depoliticization of the citizenry in the face of an egregious celebrity culture, and the disabling of education as a critical public sphere makes it easier for neoliberal capital with its hatred of democracy and celebration of the market to render its ideologies, values, and practices as a matter of common sense, removed from critical inquiry and dissent.

With privatization comes a kind of collective amnesia about the role of government, the importance of the social contract, and the importance of public values. For instance, war, intelligence operations, prisons, schools, transportation systems, and a range of other operations once considered public have been outsourced or simply handed over to private contractors who are removed from any sense of civic and political accountability. The social contract and the institutions that give it meaning have been transformed into entitlements administered and colonized largely by the corporate interests and the financial elite. Policy is no longer being written by politicians accountable to the American public. Instead, policies concerning the defense budget, deregulation, health care, public transportation, job training programs, and a host of other crucial areas are now largely written by lobbyists who represent mega corporations. How else to explain the weak deregulation policies following the economic crisis of 2007 or the lack of a public option in Obama’s health care policies? Or, for that matter, the more serious retreat from any viable notion of the political imagination that “requires long-term organizing—e.g., single-payer health care, universally free public higher education and public transportation, federal guarantees of housing and income security?[5] The liberal center has moved to the right on these issues while the left has become largely absent and ineffective.

Lofgren’s conception of the “deep state” is a certainly useful concept for exposing the dark shadows of power but it does not go far enough in explaining the emergence of a society in an era of failed sociality, one in which the state has not only become suicidal and violent, but also cruel to the extreme. This a state dedicated to governing all aspects of social life, rather than just commanding economic and political institutions. Americans now live in a time that breaks young people, devalues justice, and saturates the minute details of everyday life with the constant threat, if not reality, of state violence. The mediaeval turn to embracing forms of punishment that inflict pain on the psyches and the bodies of young 1984-2people is part of a larger immersion of society in public spectacles of violence. The Deluzian control society[6] is now the ultimate form of entertainment in America, as the pain of others, especially those considered disposable and powerless, is no longer an object of compassion, but one of ridicule and amusement. Pleasure loses its emancipatory possibilities and degenerates into a pathology in which misery is celebrated as a source of fun.  High octane violence and human suffering are now considered consumer entertainment products designed to raise the collective pleasure quotient.  Brute force and savage killing replayed over and over in the culture now function as part of an anti-immune system that turns the economy of genuine pleasure into a mode of sadism that saps democracy of any political substance and moral vitality, even as the body politic appears engaged in a process of cannibalizing its own young. It is perhaps not farfetched to imagine a reality TV show in which millions tune in to watch young kids being handcuffed, arrested, tried in the courts, and sent to juvenile detention centers. No society can make a claim to being a democracy as long as it defines itself through shared hatred and fears, rather than shared responsibilities. Needless to say, extreme violence is more than a spectacle for upping the pleasure quotient of those disengaged from politics, it is also part of a punishing machine that spends more on putting poor minorities in jail than educating them. As Michelle Alexander points out, “There are more African American adults under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began.”[7]

I would suggest that what needs to be addressed is some sense of how this unique authoritarian historical conjuncture of power and politics came into place, especially with the rise of Ronald Reagan’s anti-government policies in the 1980s and Margaret Thatcher’s announcement that there is no such thing as society, only individuals and families. This was the beginning of the war on responsible government and the elimination of the welfare state and the celebration of a stripped down radical individualism motivated by an almost pathological narcissism and self-interest.  More specifically, there is no mention by Lofgren of the collapse of the social state which began in the seventies with the rise of neoliberal capitalism–a far more dangerous form of market fundamentalism than we had seen since the first Gilded Age. Nor is there a sustained analysis of what is NSAnew about this ideology. How, for instance, are the wars abroad related increasingly to the diverse forms of domestic terrorism that have emerged at home? What is new and distinctive about a society marked by militaristic violence, exemplified by its war on youth, women, gays, public values, public education, and any viable exhibition of dissent? Why at this particular moment in history is an aggressive war being waged against not only whistle blowers, but also journalists, students, artists, intellectuals, and the institutions that support them?  And, of course, what seems entirely missing in this essay is any reference to the rise of the punishing state with its massive racially inflected incarceration system, which amounts to a war on poor minorities, especially black youth.

What is not so hidden about the tentacles of power that now hide behind the euphemism of democratic governance is the rise of a punishing state and its totalitarian paranoiac mindset  in which everyone is considered a potential terrorist or criminal. This mindset has resulted in the government arming local police forces with discarded weapons from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, turning local police into high-tech SWAT teams.[8]  How else to explain the increasing criminalization of social problems from homelessness and failure to pay off student loans to  trivial infractions  by students such as doodling on a desk or violating dress code in the public schools, all of which can land the public and young people in jail. The turn towards the punishing state is especially evident in the war on young people taking place in many schools, which now resemble prisons with their lockdown procedures, zero tolerance policies, metal detectors, and the increasing presence of police in the schools. One instance of the increasing punishing culture of schooling is provided by Chase Madar. He writes “Though it’s a national phenomenon, Mississippi currently leads the way in turning school behavior into a police issue.  The Hospitality State has imposed felony charges on schoolchildren for “crimes” like throwing peanuts on a bus.  Wearing the wrong color belt to school got one child handcuffed to a railing for several hours.  All of this goes under the rubric of “zero-tolerance” discipline, which turns out to be just another form of violence legally imported into schools.”[9]

Zero tolerance policies are only one example of the rise of the punishing and surveillance state which has transformed everyday life in the United States into a war zone.[10] John Whitehead captures the militarized culture of everyday life well in arguing that how Americans are now treated by government officials has taken a dangerous turn. He writes:

You might walk past a police officer outfitted in tactical gear, holding an assault rifle, or drive past a police cruiser scanning license plates. There might be a surveillance camera on the street corner tracking your movements. At the airport, you may be put through your paces by government agents who will want to either pat you down or run scans of your body. And each time you make a call or send a text message, your communications will most likely be logged and filed. When you return home, you might find that government agents have been questioning your neighbors about you, as part of a “census” questionnaire. After you retire to sleep, you might find yourself awakened by a SWAT team crashing through your door (you’ll later discover they were at the wrong address), and if you make the mistake of reaching for your eyeglasses, you might find yourself shot by a cop who felt threatened. Is this the behavior of a government that respects you? One that looks upon you as having inviolate rights? One that regards you as its employer, its master, its purpose for being?[11]

Central to the new authoritarianism that Lofgren hints at but does not address is the culture of fear that now rules American life and how it functions to redefine the notion of ciasecurity, diverting it away from social considerations to narrow matters of personal safety.  In a post-9/11 world, fear has become the reigning organizing principle in the United States. Fear is now embodied in the militarization of everyday life, the rise of the surveillance-mass, the notion of permanent war, the expanding incarceration state, and the crushing of dissent.  Shared fears have replaced any sense of shared responsibilities. And much of this has taken a racist turn. For instance, the war on drugs and terrorism has been joined by the war on dissent and has become the new face of racial discrimination and the destruction of all viable democratic public spheres.[12] In this instance, a culture of surveillance, punishment, and repression have become the bedrock of a new mode of authoritarianism while collective modes of support are increasingly vanishing from public life.

Similarly, any viable challenge to the “deep state” and the new mode of authoritarianism it supports needs to say more about the notion of disposability and a growing culture of cruelty brought about by the death of political concessions in politics–a politics now governed by the ultra-rich and mega corporations that has no allegiance to local politics and produces a culture infused with a self-righteous coldness that takes delight in the suffering of others. Evidence of such a culture is on full display in the attempts by extremists to cut billions of dollars from the food stamp program, lower the taxes of the rich and corporations while defunding social security and Medicare, passing legislation that openly discriminates against gays and lesbians, the attempts to roll back voting rights, and women’s reproductive rights, and this is only a short list. The war on poverty has morphed into a war on the poor, and human misfortune and “material poverty into something shameful and repellent.”[13]

* * * * *

“Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end … except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more…”

* * * * *

Power is now separated from politics and floats, unchecked, and uncaring. Power is global and politics is local and points to a new form of hybrid global financial authoritarianism. This points to something connected to the “deep state” and that is the emergence of global neoliberalism and its savage willingness in the name of accumulation, privatization, deregulation, dispossession, and power to make disposable a wide range of groups. Such groups include but are not limited to low income youth, poor minorities, unemployed workers, and elements of the middle class that have lost jobs, social protections, and hope.

Increasingly, in the United States, poor minority and low-income youth, especially those from marginalized ethnic and indigenous groups, are often warehoused in schools that resemble boot camps, dispersed to dank and dangerous work places far from the enclaves of the tourist industries, incarcerated in prisons that favor punishment over rehabilitation, and consigned to the increasing army of the permanently unemployed.  Rendered redundant as a result of the collapse or absence of the social state, pervasive racism, a growing disparity in income and wealth, and a profit-at-all-costs neoliberal mindset, an increasing number of individuals and groups are being demonized, criminalized, or simply abandoned because they lack status as middle-class “taxpayers.” Their ranks are filled with non-citizens (immigrants and refugees), poor minorities, low-income youth, the elderly, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled, the homeless, and the underemployed and working poor who cannot secure a living wage. These people become invisible in the public discourse and occupy what Joao Biehl has called those “zones of terminal exclusion” which accelerate the disposability of the unwanted.[14]

Central to a failed state and a politics of disposability is the central question: How does culture work to insure the workings of dominant power? That is, how does the “deep state” function to encourage particular types of individualistic, competitive, acquisitive and entrepreneurial behavior in its citizens? The biggest problem facing the U.S. may not be only its repressive institutions, modes of governance, and the militarization of everyday life, but also the interiority of neoliberal nihilism, the hatred of democratic relations, and the embrace of a culture of cruelty. That is, how is subjective life itself now shaped according to the logic of the market, commerce, and the privatization and commodification of everything? The role of culture as an educative force, a new and powerful force in politics is central here and is vastly underplayed in the essay (which of course cannot include everything). For instance, in what ways does it use the major cultural apparatuses to convince people that there is no alternative to existing relations of power, that consumerism is the ultimate mark of citizenship, and that making money is the essence of individual and social responsibility.

In other words, what is missing from Lofgren’s theory of the “deep state” is a sustained analysis of cultural domination–an understanding of how identities, subjectivities, and values are shaped in the narrow and selfish image of commerce, how exchange values have become the only values, and how the vocabulary of the market has hijacked public values, and the discourse of solidarity, community, and social responsibility.   In my estimation, the “deep state” is simply symptomatic of something more ominous, the rise of a new form of authoritarianism, a counter-revolution in which society is being restructured and advanced under what might be called the neoliberal revolution. This is a counter-revolution in which the welfare state is being liquidated, along with the collective provisions which supported it. It is a revolution in which economics drives politics.

The question of resistance haunts almost all theories of the “deep state,” which often conflate power with domination and offer nothing less than a dystopian vision of society and the future. Resistance either degenerates into nostalgia for the good old days of the past or it suggests that those who wish to change the world should work within the current bankrupt political system. Or, even worse, it suggest that the call for radical change is ultimately an act of bad faith, if not a form of political infantilism. Rather than dissolve power into unshakable forms of domination, I think these new modes of power have to be understood in terms of their limits and strengths and challenged accordingly not as an act of reform but as an act of revolution—a going to the root of the problem in order to create strategies for fundamental social, political, and economic transformation.

I don’t believe the system is broken. I think it works well, but in the interest of very privileged and powerful elite economic and political interests that are aggressively waging a war on democracy itself. If there is to be any challenge to this system, it cannot be made within the discourse of liberal reform, which has largely served to maintain a repressive status quo.  Occupy and many other social movements recognize this. These groups have refused to be defined by the dominant media, the dictates of the security state, the financialization of everyday life, and forms of representations that are utterly corrupt. Hope and resistance will only come when the call for reform and working within the system gives way to imagining a very different understanding of what democracy means.

capitolThe new authoritarianism with its diverse tentacles is the antithesis of democracy, and if we are going to change what Lofgren calls the “deep state”, it is necessary to think in terms of an alternative that does not mimic its ideologies, institutions, governing structures, and power relations. Two things are essential for challenging the new authoritarianism. First, there needs to be a change in collective consciousness about what democracy really means and what it might look like. This is a pedagogical task whose aim is to create the formative culture that produces the agents and subjects necessary for challenging a range of anti-democratic practices and neoliberal values, ideologies, and modes of governance that impoverish democratic values, experiences, and civic responsibility.

This suggests making education central to any viable notion of pedagogy and working diligently to develop public spaces, particularly alternative spaces, where new ideas, modes of exchange, and forms of critical analysis can be produced and circulated. Clearly, this would include using the Internet, new digital media, journals, magazines, screen culture, films, newspapers, and all of the cultural apparatuses available to address and develop new modes of subjectivity. Secondly, there is a need for a massive social movement with distinct strategies, organizations, and the will to address the roots of the problem and imagine a very different kind of society, one that requires genuine democratic socialism as its aim.

The left is too fractured around single political issues and needs to develop alliances in which broad based organizations can be developed with long term strategies and goals. This will not happen quickly but the foundations can be laid for new modes of organizing in which the totality of society is addressed and diverse struggles can be aligned in ways that expand their reach and political power outside of the specificity of differences that drive them. Democracy is on life support in the United States and working within the system to change it is a dead end, except for gaining short term reforms. The struggle for a substantive democracy needs more, and the American people expect more. The “deep state” is an important concept but it needs to be expanded so as to address the dark shadow of authoritarianism that now haunts American society.

 

About the author:

Henry A. Giroux is the Global TV Network Chair at McMaster University and is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Ryerson University in Canada. His latest book is Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education published by Haymarket (2014).


[1] See Mike Lofgren, “The ““deep state”” – How Much Does It Explain?,” Truthout (February 26, 2014). Online: http://www.truth-out.org/opinion/item/22075-anatomy-of-the-deep-state

[2]  See, Jim Palombo, “Deep State” Ragazine ( March 2014)

[3] Ibid. Lofgren.

[4] Ibid. Lofgren

[5] Adolph Reed Jr., “Nothing Left: The Long, Slow Surrender of American Liberals,” Harper’s Magazine (March 2014), p. 29.

[6] Giles Deleuze, “Societies of Control,” October, 59, 1992, pp. 3-7.

[7] Michelle Alexander, “Michelle Alexander, The Age of Obama as a Racial Nightmare,” Tom Dispatch (March 25, 2012). Online: http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175520/best_of_tomdispatch%3A_michelle_alexander,_the_age_of_obama_as_a_racial_nightmare/

[8] Radley Balko, The Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces (Jackson, Tenn.: Perseus Books, 2013).

[9] Chase Madar, “Everyone Is a Criminal: On the Over-Policing of America”, Huffington Post (December 13, 2013). Online:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chase-madar/over-policing-of-america_b_4412187.html

[10] I address this issue in detail in Henry A. Giroux, America’s Education Deficit and the War on Youth (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2013) and Henry A. Giroux, Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Boulder: Paradigm Publishers, 2013).

[11] John W. Whitehead, “Paranoia, Surveillance and Military Tactics: Have We Become Enemies of the Government?” The Rutherford Institute (February 17, 2014). Online: https://www.rutherford.org/publications_resources/john_whiteheads_commentary/paranoia_surveillance_and_military_tactics_have_we_become_enemies_of_t

[12] Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (New York: New Press, 2012).

[13] Jonathan Crary, 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (London: Verso, 2013), p. 113.

[14]. Joao Biehl, Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2005).

 

 

 

March 1, 2014   1 Comment

Politics Aside

SOME

 From the SOME website: http://www.soothersmayeatmexico.org/

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Holiday Time in Passing

by Jim Palombo

I am currently in the small city of San Miguel de Allende located almost in the middle of Mexico. And, as is my custom when I’m on the road, I try to be involved with what might be happening wherever I might be. In that context, here are two pieces I wrote for the local paper, The Atencion – they speak to holiday emotions via the experiences I found myself having this past Christmas. With these experiences in hand there is a lot that connects to the political and economic strategies surrounding them, and that is normally what I would discuss. But in this instance I’ll just pass the comments along and let you decide on what else might follow.  And whatever thoughts you find yourself with, I hope they serve you well as the New Year unfolds.

So Others May Eat  

I just returned from another SOME (So Others May Eat) program luncheon. I’ve only attended a few of these gatherings but for Joe and Antonette Lim it’s been 25 years and almost 300,000 servings that have been portioned out. That’s right – a quarter of a century and over a quarter of a million lunches served.  And this is amid the other activities that happen via the program, activities that include Family Social Integration meetings, Leadership and Training seminars, Prison Visitations, Hygiene Classes, a Ladies Sewing Cooperative, a Food Pantry Outreach and the administration of a Benevolence Fund that further helps people in need. It’s not the grandest of programs but the energy and spiritual strength exhibited by the Lims always makes me shake my head in admiration. But they are quick to point out that although they contribute money from their Spa business (located at Recreo#38) the additional funds to support this span of activities come from the Christian Church Outreach, donations from those so inclined (they can certainly use more assistance) and a number of fundraisers. And in terms of the luncheon itself, although the kitchen staff is donated via the Lim’s Spa, the support group that attends and serves lunches to those 150 to 200 seated participants is made up of local, national and international volunteers – what the Lims reference as the backbone of their/any well-intentioned charity program.

This Wednesday was the Christmas serving and as it is with the other weekly Wednesday gatherings the ages of those present covered a lot of ground, this time ranging from 2 months to 97 years. (This mix alone is a genuine experience.)  And given that it was a holiday luncheon, the usual serving and music, songs, dancing and of course prayer were all accompanied by the giving of a special Christmas bag filled with foodstuffs. The idea was that people could then share this food with their families at home – just an additional holiday “touch of the heart” from the Lims.  All in all, it was indeed a very heartful afternoon.

I guess one could say that the spirit and dedication of the Lims mirrors the many efforts that take place in San Miguel and across the world as well, every day of the year. It’s the nature of charity work that comes from the grace of God and elsewhere, and it seems to keep what is often the unsteady ship of life afloat. And when I participated in the SOME holiday proceedings, and again recognized the dignity and soul surrounding their entire program, I got the feeling that can only come by experiencing what people like the Lims do. It’s a feeling that cannot be manufactured – it’s simply just felt – by means of an effort put forth in the true meaning of paz y amor, week in and week out. In all honesty I felt lucky to be provided the chance to recognize this sensation in myself, and for that I am sincerely grateful to all those who were present on Wednesday.

Although a lot more can be said about the holiday gathering (and the many similar events held within the San Miguel community) I trust that all of you reading this can grasp the depth of what the SOME program and the Lims have been part of.  They asked me to relay that on behalf of them, their supporters and the program participants, the wish for a happy and thoughtful holiday season is extended – and may the New Year bring the elements of hope and joy more readily to your table.

(As a brief addendum to this piece let me add that poverty and hunger in the world are not things to celebrate. Yet, in the context of efforts like that of Lims and particularly in this time of the year, the closing words of Max Ehrmann in Desiderata come to mind:  “Whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful. Strive to be happy.”)

 

Christmas Contrasts

There are two dumps located in this area of Mexico, one in the vicinity of San Miguel and the other, located about 30 miles away, is near the city of Dolores Hidalgo. I’ve had the experience of visiting both sites in the past, predominantly to see how the people living out there are faring and if indeed the conditions were as bad as some had indicated. In that regard I have to answer both yes and no in terms of my visit. The “yes” part is directly tied to the belief that no-one, especially the young (say infants to twelve) should be living in the conditions that the people in these dumps are living in. Given the smell, the filth and the overall lack of what can easily be considered ‘basic’ living elements, the dumps are an affront to human decency. And this is no matter what political platform you support or how you frame individual and societal responsibilities.  On the “no” side unfortunately (and I say this with legitimate sadness and despair), I’ve seen worse.

That being said, this Christmas Eve I had friends who went to both sites to bring food and clothing and some presents for the people who make the dump their home. From their recollection, and like most others who happen to find themselves making this trip, it was both a heartwarming and heartbreaking experience. And as I listened to their comments about the deplorable living conditions mixed in with the cold and damp weather of the day and looked at the few pictures they took (with great care not to offend) I couldn’t help but recall the images of the dirty, hungry and listless faces that I encountered in my visits. Suffice it to say it was a most unsettling sensation.

Perhaps on any normal day I wouldn’t have made any more of the discomfort that the images pushed. Again I had seen worse and I had on several occasions sorted through what feelings the sightings had prompted. But later that evening as I sat in front of our big screen and listened to the beautiful Christmas sounds coming from the beautiful choirs across the world, the images of the poor and dirty and hungry came back at me. I tried not to let the sadness overcome the beauty I was witnessing, but it was simply unavoidable.

Amid the welling of tears all I could think about was how strange a world it is – where clean and bright and healthy souls could sing with such joy and spirit at Christmas time while others lived in such gut wrenching misery. It wasn’t as if the conditions were the carolers’ fault or even if fault was in play. It was more of an empty feeling, as if that was the way of world, as it always has been, and as it will more than likely always be.

I guess this wasn’t in the best of holiday spirit but it was what it was.  And again the feeling lay somewhere between the heartwarming and heartbreaking landfill that is life. Perhaps it’s just too hard, given all that we can see of today’s world, to let ourselves slip into total joy. Maybe it’s just a matter of enjoying what we can of joy’s relative availability. In any event, I know that the contrast of those whose images were so beautifully arranged versus those whose lives are anything but, presented something meaningful.  And in the context of that meaning, I can only extend best wishes for a thoughtful year ahead.

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

December 31, 2013   Comments Off on Politics Aside

Jim Palombo/Politics

forum

Roman Forum. http://romanforum.org

Contemporary Issues,

Dialogue and our Civic Character

by J. Palombo

In the last edition I promised to reference the National Issues Forum gathering I attended in Dayton, Ohio.  And I’ll get to mentioning what transpired there, especially in terms of its focus on creating a better civically skilled NIFpublic, in a few paragraphs. But for the moment it seems important to call attention to several current concerns as they serve as prime examples of what might happen in a forum type setting where national and international issues can be legitimately (without partisan favor) examined.

Let’s start with the concern that seems the farthest away in terms of time (funny how time/issues fly), the mess created by the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin case. There is no doubt that the passing of a young person’s life is a terrible tragedy and that the circumstances under which that occurred demand scrutiny. But I have to question whether taking this tragedy as an example for civil rights abuse is giving the civil rights movement its proper due. In other words, there are instances in any society, where the rubber meets the road so to speak, when crazy things happen just because of the craziness of both people and the times. In this context to put the issues surrounding civil rights on the shoulders of this incident seems a bit misguided.

It is impossible to dispute that there are racist individuals in our society, and also that there are a large number of minorities involved in crime. And there is no doubt that the essence of the civil rights movement is linked to both.  But there are a myriad of concerns that need to be measured before making significant links to occurring events. For example, in terms of individual racism, can this ever be totally eliminated? And if it seems more predominant in one generation over the other, what are the driving forces behind this? And what is the difference between individual and institutional racism? And what was the intent of the civil rights movement in the context of both? And in terms of the movement, and the desire to increase opportunities for minorities in the name of equality (via concerns like voting rights, mandated access to housing, work, education, and equal protection of rights under the law) doesn’t this era need to be fully referenced in order that its public policy responses (like quota systems, affirmative action, search and seizure restrictions) be adequately understood by each generation? And as important, isn’t the fact that the principles of equality and freedom actually conflict with one another remain a significant consideration? (In other words, isn’t it true that to legitimately have the former a society has to be willing to give up some of the latter? And what does this mean?) And what was it about the 1950s and early ’60s that contributed to making the civil rights movement feasible? And to what extent was its success tied to the prosperity of post World War II America? Or to the “collective crisis” depression years that preceded the war?  And what were the formative principles related to democracy and the free market by which Conservatives during the civil rights era fought against the movement? And what were the corresponding Liberal principles of that time? And what about the so-called “radical position” that took shape in that era? And to what extent do the principles of each of these views remain in effect today?

Although closely linked to these questions, especially in terms of justice and equality within the criminal justice system itself (and issues like profiling, bail, the nature of plea bargaining and the effectiveness of our “deprivation of liberty” punishment process), the large number of minorities involved in crime demands its own set of inquiries. For instance, what is the driving force behind this fact? Is this due to some biological concern? Is criminality a sociological concern? Or is it a psychological concern?  To what extent is it all three? (Can “normal behavior” ever be clearly determined?) And, over time, how do our particular cultural instincts – a mix of sociological-biological and psychological elements that develop within individual cultures – motivate certain behaviors? And how do the political views noted above speak to crime and criminal justice policy?

These considerations can easily be seen as too far afield from the actualities of the Zimmerman-Martin tragedy, or the fact that minorities are overrepresented in crime. In fact, many might think that raising all these questions makes matters too academic, in a sense making the problems more intellectual than need be. In defense, it should be noted that the questions are, in effect, at least as important as the answers. And although it’s partially true that sorting through these questions (and the many others) may require an academic-type setting, these are practical questions in substance. In other words the questions and potential resolutions are for all of us to think about – if for nothing else but to realize the depth of the difficulties we face in managing today’s society.

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Another issue that follows a similar logic is the continuing threat of terrorism and what appears to be the resulting threat of continued war, especially in the Middle East. Like with racism and crime, it is again clear that these threats speak to the facts of the day. Yet to avoid being swept up in chaos, the considerations attached to the threats should be clearly defined, which again means a significant array of concerns be put on the table.  For example, how did the situation in the Middle East get to be as it is? What have been our policies there that make us such a target? Why do we seem to represent a threat to many in the Muslim world?  What are the particular cultural instincts of the people there? How do the factions within each country differ from one another? And how are they different from us? As to the wars, are they to be considered “oil wars,” a struggle to control resources, or confrontations over church and state concerns, or both?   In terms of our enemies (exactly who are they?) are the wars directed at involving the U.S. in unending turmoil as much as bringing peaceful solutions to any internal/religious/tribal disputes? (Is the U.S.’s ongoing entanglements in these wars a part of the Bin Laden legacy/strategy?)  To what extent are the conflicts due to our market/capitalist objectives as opposed to the nature of our democratic pursuits? And to what extent to do the aforementioned Conservative, Liberal and alternate political platforms/principles differ on our policies there?  And where are the other countries in the world in terms of supporting military intervention – aren’t they against terrorism? To what extent are their moral beliefs as opposed to their business interests at stake?  And where is the major world power, China, in all of this?  And what is the role of Russia, as well as the other BRICS nations in the conflicts?  How does the Arab culture relate to being on the side of the Americans? Would they prefer to be on the side of China? Or would they prefer being on all sides of the oil consuming spectrum?

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These are more vexing questions for sure, and again there are many others that could be noted. But the picture should be clear, or at least clear enough to recognize how cloudy things actually are. With this in mind, it seems fair to turn to the question of what we might do to help better address the situation where, amid the pressures of ketteringthe day, so much needs to be understood on both national and international fronts. And this leads directly to the possibilities that exist within the National Issues Forum (NIF). Guided by the goal of improving civic dialogue and the essential question “What are the elements that prevent our democracy from working?” the NIF program focuses on bringing people together to discuss issues within a broad range of possibilities. The strategy is that, especially over-time, we will develop a better civically equipped public from which better dialogue and better public policy will follow.

In this context the major concerns relating to why, where and how these gatherings might happen becomes important. In the first sense, “why” seems quite apparent. As the questions already raised imply, there is little difficulty in recognizing the vastness and complexity of the issues we are facing. In short we are at a time in our history when civic concerns need our utmost attention. In terms of the “where,” any locale available for public discussion would be viable, with community centers, libraries or educational settings providing great examples. In this light, and consistent with the NIF’s objectives, the best option may be within the post-secondary arena, where “civic dialogue” remains a mandate and resources/people are already in place to effectuate long-term, civic-oriented programs. This option could also help with moving discussion to both the secondary and adult education environments, in essence providing a larger audience for dialogue. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the “how” relates to having a non-partisan discussion process where the exchanges don’t simply begin and end with political stand-offs, but bring to light all the variables/questions/solutions that should be considered. This requires that the discussion process itself, including the facilitators, be well honed in terms of creating meaningful, deliberative civil discussions. (This “manner of discussion” is a primary focus in terms of the NIF efforts.) In the end, the expectation is that issues on both political and individual levels can be better articulated, understood and referenced in appropriate manner.

So, this is the framework of the NIF. Yet, despite the apparent straightforward and common sense appeal of its process, implementation of the ideas is not easy. The current discussion climate presents a full array of one-sided and/or disconcerting yelling contests which make for poor examples of dialogue-related possibilities. And of course this reflects the current political atmosphere where the immediacy of getting votes, by any means possible, is the focus. There is also public apathy to contend with, the growing feeling that people can’t really make a difference.  And this relates to an overall distrust of governmental and non-governmental institutions, as well as the political and economic processes that feed into both. And when one talks of an open dialogue, this means that there will be alternative views presented for consideration which, on political, economic and social levels, may not match current mainstream views.  This generally tends to confuse/anger people when they have to look toward what they don’t know. And “new ideas” can also frustrate those who are quite content with maintaining things as they are.

CICOrgGiven the status quo, the situation at times seems rather hopeless. But in coming away from the NIF conference I felt quite the opposite.  Its program, already involved with locations across 39 states, provided a viable and positive way to address our concerns, one that can service our coming together in this time of “collective crises.” Again we need help in both thinking and acting more coherently, and certainly we have had enough of the divisive and unhealthy “shoot first and then take aim” approaches that come at us every day. So with all this on the table, I trust you will have a moment or two to take a serious look at the sites referenced below – each one is certainly worth the read. There is little doubt that we all have to find more effective ways to become more engaged in our future – and NOW is the time.

(I attended a gathering in Mestre-Venice, Italy this past month called “Politics without Politicians.” It was an interesting program, providing the mix of journalists, academics and others the opportunity to exchange ideas about the significant problems facing Italy and the European Union. Although a worthwhile event, what struck me most was that the majority of the people talking about the problems were from the upper classes, while the large number of poorer people I saw milling around the train station as I arrived and departed were actually living the problems.  It prompted the question of whether we can create a bridge between these two groups, in essence making civic dialogue more practical in its application. Once again, I believe this concern can be better addressed via a format like the one suggested by the NIF.)

 

REFERENCES:  National Issues Forum, www.nifi.org; Kettering Foundation, www.kettering.org; Sustained Dialogue, www.sustainedialogue.org; Campaign for an Informed Citizenry, www.cicorg.com

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

 

 

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6.GREATMOON2013

November 2, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Jim Palombo/Politics

 

1984

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Puzzling Pieces

By Jim Palombo

This edition contains two segments that pertain to current affairs. It would seem that both offer some insight into problems we face but may never fully resolve.  Of course I’ll let you be the judge of that, so please read on.

Crime log

Having recently returned from a six month stay in Mexico, I’ve been frequently asked about the crime and violence there – usually framed in the question: “Is it safe in that country?” My response hinges on “that depends” and I’ll note that for the most part it’s as safe as anywhere else in the world.  This of course does little to put most people at ease.  But to the point of this brief commentary the nature of the inquiry most often leads to more discussion, particularly concerns tied to the illicit drug trade.  And this in turn leads to several considerations which at first glance may not be readily detected.

bootleg

Charley Berger and his bootleg gang in Illinois; Kentucky Historical Society photo. Guns long have been part of intemperance and prohibition.

The most predominant consideration is the comparison of the current state of affairs in Mexico to elements pertinent to U.S. struggles during prohibition. Clearly, that period was marked by terrible violence linked to the illegal alcohol trade (consider the use of the rapid firing Browning automatic rifle and the Tommy-gun back in those days,) while banditos filled the police blotters with crimes including not only illegal substance making and distribution but also murder, kidnapping and bank robbery.  As significant, the period helped to create an illegitimate opportunity structure whose frame remains in effect to this day.  And of course the development of this structure also paved the way for avenues of corruption which continue to be well traveled.

The comparison also allows for consideration of the decriminalization (and legalization) strategy, which for all intents and purposes took the illegal profit out of the booze trade, leaving the business more sensibly in the hands of legitimate interests. Although a difficult strategy to pursue in terms of the contemporary drug trade in Mexico, especially when noting that the demand/addiction concerns lie primarily within the U.S., this may be the only acceptable response to what is happening in the country.  I should mention that this type policy action has been thoroughly discussed there, particularly as a lesser of evils, but at this point nothing more than discussion seems to be forthcoming. (Note that this “discussion only” circumstance also applies to the U.S.)

Finally, the situation in Mexico brings to mind another comparison to the U.S.  In short, how does the U.S. addiction to oil, which has resulted in a significant amount of violence in terms of war and other more covert activities, compare to that of the drug trade in Mexico? It would certainly seem fair to suggest that both have resulted in almost unfathomable damage, collateral and otherwise, presenting problems of national and international concern for the two countries. And once again, this is especially problematic given the difficulty of acting upon potential solutions at hand.

 

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave…”

Speaking about problems talked about on my return, it’s no secret that a number of those high-up in our government, trojanhorseincluding the President, are in hot water for a number of situations where national security issues and our sense of liberty are at odds.  It seems that we are in the midst of a national debate over how much power the government should be allowed in order to protect our society, and what that power may translate into relative to the balance of the need for both secrecy and transparency. Of course, security versus liberty interests are nothing new in terms of constitutional concerns, particularly as they extend to all areas where both free speech and reasonable expectation of privacy are of concern. But in today’s terrorist-ridden, cyber-spaced world there seems a stretch in all directions for the policies on the table. And because this calls into question any number of governmental strategies, including those connected to profiling and data and personal surveillance – where concerns like wiretapping and warrantless searches and seizures come into play, the situation is indeed difficult to sort through.  And as the President himself has indicated: “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We are going to have to make some choices as a society.” Suffice it to say that, especially given our times, we are faced with some confusing and complex decisions.

In the context of this confusion and complexity, there appears another worry, one that relates to how well the public will actually come to better understand the difficult times we are in. In other words, it appears reasonable to think that in the midst of the extremism (whether right or left wing), the finger pointing (whether right or left), the want for sensationalism (ah, the media), and of course the whistle-blowing and “leaking” (treason, bravery, or?), our public may have a hard time distinguishing the issues on the table. Put another way, how will we manage to sort through all the variables and come to some reasonable ground from which we can proceed?

Embedded in this concern is a particularly disturbing element, one linked to what can be called “the art of the narrative.” By definition a narrative is generally an account that connects events in a way that can help explain an occurrence. Traditionally this account can focus on an individual and/or a scenario and be either fiction or non-fiction in content. The expectation is that those who hear or read the narrative will better understand what happened given the elements at hand. Now this all sounds simple enough – until we begin to consider what is actually fact or fiction, and to what extent one can be used to offset the other given any particular private or public agenda.  In other words, and especially with the use of disinformation (misleading or non-relevant material), what is it that we are actually hearing in terms of what actually happened in any particular event?  In essence, and especially taking into account that truth may indeed be stranger than fiction, well, it doesn’t take much to realize what a pickle we are in.

madrid

Aftermath of Madrid train bombing by Al Queda.

And there is more as to this “narrative” point. It can be argued that a degree of deception, delusion or simple ‘story-line’ creeps into most of our own narratives when experiences get explained. But it seems that in certain arenas, like the government or the law, the ‘crafting’ of any particular narrative related to any particular agenda is a valued and even revered art form. This means that it is very likely that no matter what the situation or problem, whether in Benghazi or in the IRS, NSA, AG offices or anywhere else, the translation of events will be such that what we ultimately hear may not lead us any closer to the truth.

And it is also important to note that in business/the private sector there is also room for concern. Certainly truth in advertising is a misnomer and there are private deals happening before our eyes that we simply will not be able to clearly see. (One can’t help but think of the man behind Oz’s curtain that Dorothy and her companions are told to ignore.) I offer the China-Smithfield pork deal as an example – where under the umbrella of the Committee on Foreign Investments,  a U.S. government agency shrouded in secrecy cuts deals affecting all of us to significant degrees without legitimate public notice.

To be honest, I’m not sure we can untangle all of this, in effect eliminating all the “bull” and getting to a point where we can clearly understand the nature of our problems.  In fact, given our current state of affairs, it might just be easier to adopt changes that match better with our reality. As an example, consider preceding any formal testimony with “I swear to tell the half-truth and nothing but the half-truth…” This may simply be a better way to proceed. Indeed, this brings into worry the “doublespeak” fashioned by Orwell in his book 1984: “to know and not to know, to be conscious of complete truthfulness while telling carefully constructed lies, to hold simultaneously two opinions which cancel out, knowing both to be contradictory and believing in both of them, to use logic against logic, to repudiate morality while laying claim to it.” As shameful as it may be, perhaps we should we just let this be an acceptable mode of dialogue. (As a corollary to these considerations, imagine what the overall effect of the situation does in terms of courses like Ethics and Public Policy taught across our higher learning spectrum. Clearly, with practicality in mind, honesty, integrity, trust, principles, etc. have to take a back seat to the “crafting” of what the public “needs” to know.)

These are indeed crazy times. But again just pointing out some things that may be in the way of us getting to the truth should be helpful. In this light, and as with the aforementioned drug trade concerns, perhaps we are in need of some type of national forum on issues, perhaps one where, with the help of the post-secondary education process, we might more clearly define/understand the problems facing us, allowing us some reasonable, non-partisan ground from which we can proceed. This would not be a panacea but it would certainly serve to at least create a more legitimate dialogue over what we can and can’t do with the issues at hand.

On that note, I’ll leave you with the mention that this will be the topic of an upcoming article at Ragazine.  As I will be attending a gathering that has at its core the “national issues forum” concept regarding developing legitimate civic dialogue, I anticipate informing you of what happens, accordingly.  So stay tuned – I trust you will return to read more in our next print.

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About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

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joe orton

Joe Orton, Paddington Bear. Jonathan Kelham drawing.

August 31, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Tom Wilber Reports

Credit: Newstimes Photo

Obama’s upstate tour

inspires anti-fracking activists

President: ‘Fossil fuels finite.

Climate change is real’

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by Tom Wilber

Binghamton (August 24, 2013) —  It was tough going for the 400 protesters preparing for Barack Obama’s visit to Binghamton University Friday. They faced traffic from a rush of returning students and a maze of construction barriers, detours, and police blockades. Parking on campus, limited under ideal circumstances, got predictably worse when police closed campus roads at 10 a.m., two and a half hours prior to the arrival of the presidential motorcade.

After getting an early morning start that began with a walk of a mile or more from remote parking spots, with NO FRACKING WAY placards and provisions in hand, the protesters – skewed heavily toward the baby boom generation but also including students – gathered at a designated spot on the motorcade route in front of the university library. They rallied for hours while waiting for the president’s arrival.  They chanted “Yes We Can,” echoing both the president’s campaign slogan, and their intention to stop fracking. The cheers reverberated across quads and walkways at the center of campus that were mostly empty due to security measures, and the animation of the protesters offered stark contrast to the poised vigilance of police and secret service personnel stationed at every turn.

I passed the protesters as I negotiated the series of barriers and yellow tape, hurrying to get to the press check-in at the university union before the cut-off. After getting cleared, I was directed through the press entrance to the venue, where I set up my laptop at a bank of workstations that accommodated about 40 other reporters on the periphery of the action. My view was partially obscured by the risers in front of me, which held cameras for photographers and broadcast outlets. The press pool, easily numbering more than 100, flanked one side of the small hall. The president’s podium was in the middle. Two other sets of risers – opposite and at a right angle to the risers for the press pool – held students and faculty picked from a lottery. In the remaining space a row of folded chairs directly in front of the president was reserved for local officials and dignitaries.

A few hours later, with everybody in their assigned places, a helicopter churned overhead and the presidential motorcade turned onto campus. As the line of motorcycles with flashing lights, SUVs and a large black bus with the presidential seal made their way up the road, the activists by the library seized their brief moment and shouted and waved banners. Some glimpsed the president standing near the front of the bus, but it was difficult to discern a reaction behind the tinted class. It was over in an instant, and several minutes later, the president made his way into the Union from an unseen entrance.

Obama opened the meeting with a short talk about education as the essence of the American Dream. Predictably, he offered no passing mention of the subject that stirred the protest that greeted his arrival, or other protests that had been staged across various points of his two-day tour through upstate New York and Pennsylvania. The questions and answers of the two-hour town hall meeting were themed around equality and access and affordability of the American higher education system. (With due respect to the significance of the educational issues that were the focus of the president’s tour, I will not go into these much here, and leave that worthwhile work to other bloggers and educational beat writers.)

In keeping with the heart of the theme of his second term – working for the middle class – Obama projected an approachable and informal manner throughout his upstate tour, which included spontaneous stops to greet surprised onlookers at soccer-fields, diners, and cafes. And he kept  up that manner at Binghamton University.  “I’m interested in hearing your stories, getting your questions,” he said. “And this will be a pretty informal affair– well, as informal as it gets when the President comes – (to laughter) – and there are a bunch of cameras everywhere.” After calling on a student in an Obama T-shirt, he advised “here’s a general rule in the presidential town hall:  If you want to get called on, wear the president’s face on your shirt.” (The student’s question: How does your administration plan to address the major budget cuts that are happening with Head Start schools around the U.S.? Obama’s answer: As the deficit continues to fall with the economic recovery, he sees more resources for federal funding. But it remains a political fight, and he will fight for worthwhile programs like Head Start.)

Near the end of the meeting, Obama called on a man with something other than education on his mind. His name was Adam Flint, coordinator of a Cooperative Extension program called Broome Energy Leadership Program. Flint began with a bit of context: Fossil fuels might last another generation. And then what? He was worried about his children’s futures, and he was guessing that the president, with adolescent daughters of his own, shared his concern. “Is there any good news for green economy of future?” Flint asked.

Behind that simple question lies a convoluted political dilemma, and the president’s answer reflected this, if little else. On the one hand, Obama said, with record production of domestic fossil fuel “we’ve actually achieved, or are on the verge of achieving about as close as you can get to energy independence as America is going to see.” He notably chose to avoid the word “fracking” – the controversial method of splitting rock with pressurized chemical solutions. This technology, exempt from federal regulation that govern chemicals that go into the ground and waste that comes out of the ground, is largely responsible for prolonging and enabling our fossil fuel-based energy system.

Without mentioning these exemptions, Obama pushed on to the crux of the question: The future. “The bottom line is those (fossil fuels) are still finite resources.  Climate change is real.  The planet is getting warmer.  And you’ve got several billion Chinese, Indians, Africans and others who also want cars, refrigerators, electricity. And as they go through their development cycle, the planet cannot sustain the same kinds of energy use as we have right now.  So we’re going to have to make a shift.”

The shift will require new technology, he said. But immediate improvements can come through conservation measures now within reach that could reduce the country’s energy consumption by 20 percent to 30 percent.  Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency, as well as building new energy-efficient buildings and communities, can create jobs as well as decrease energy dependence. But even a relatively simple approach like this – what Obama called the “low hanging fruit” of the energy question – involves a problem. The problem is rooted deeply in prevailing influence of Big Energy on Capitol Hill, and ideological factors that “tend not to be particularly sympathetic to alternative energy strategies,” Obama said.

“In some cases, we’ve actually been criticized that it’s a socialist plot that’s restricting your freedom for us to encourage energy-efficient light bulbs, for example.  I never understood that.  But you hear those arguments.  I mean, you can go on the Web, and people will be decrying how simple stuff that we’re doing, like trying to set up regulations to make appliances more energy-efficient – which saves consumers money and is good for our environment – is somehow restricting America’s liberty and violates the Constitution.

“A lot of our job is to educate the public as to why this can be good for them – in a very narrow self-interested way.  This is not pie in the sky. This is not tree-hugging, sprout-eating university professors. This is a practical, hardheaded, smart, business-savvy approach to how we deal with energy.”

Obama is dealing with energy in a somewhat different way than his fellow Democratic leader, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. Obama has embraced an “all of the above” approach to encourage sources of domestic energy production, including fossil fuels and renewables, and in previous speeches he has identified fracking for natural gas and oil as “a priority.” Obama’s words have been supported by his actions: His EPA has dropped two critical investigations into groundwater pollution near drilling sites in Pavillion, Wyoming and Dimock, Pennsylvania. Both investigations found chemicals associated with drilling in residential water wells, and this finding, if pursued, could have provided ammunition for policy reform and a threat to the industry’s exemptions to the Clean Drinking Water Act. Also, Obama’s Department of Energy has begun permitting facilities to export gas, a move that will encourage more exploration and production at home.

Cuomo, on the other hand, leads a state that sits over a lucrative part of the Marcellus and Utica shales – world class gas reserves. Yet Cuomo has not allowed shale gas development. A defacto-moratorium on permitting is now entering its sixth year, while the Cuomo administration continues to evaluate health and environmental impacts of fracking and the broader consequences of shale gas development.

In the meantime, political action groups both for and against fracking have used the delay to pressure Cuomo. Fracking supporters also appeared with signs  – Drill a Well, bring a soldier home – within view of the presidential motorcade yesterday. That protest, at Otsiningo Park boarding Route 81 several miles north of Binghamton, was much smaller and less visible than the one on campus, and the difference between the two protests illustrates the way things are going in New York state.

Walter Hang, an anti-fracking activist and an organizer of the Binghamton University protest, said the logistically difficult demonstration on campus was a reflection of the organizational ability and commitment of the anti-fracking push from the grass roots that has stalled the development of shale gas at the Pennsylvania border.

“When Obama’s office announced he would be taking a bus tour through upstate, we knew this was a chance to get our message out nationally,” said Hang, a career activist who worked as a community organizer for New York Public Interest Research Group for decades. Hang emphasizes the importance of tactics and execution in political action campaigns. “We’re out-organizing the industry in New York state,” he said.

In addition to well-organized grass roots campaigns in upstate New York, the movement is also getting help from Cuomo’s broader progressive base, which includes a host of institutions and influence from the Hudson Valley and New York City areas strongly opposed to fracking.

Cuomo, seen by many as a rising star in the Democratic party and a possible successor to Obama, neatly sidestepped this chapter of the shale gas controversy. After greeting the president at the Buffalo airport Thursday, he took his daughters back to college while the president made his rounds upstate.

 

About the author:

Tom Wilber has been in the newspaper business for more than 20 years and has written for the Central New York Business Journal and the Watertown Daily Times. For 17 years, he worked for the Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, covering business, health, and environment beats. From 1992 through 2005, he taught various journalism courses as an adjunct at Broome Community College and Binghamton University. He lives with his wife, Julianne, and their two children, Alex and Patricia, in the Town of Union, New York.

His book, Under the Surface: Fracking, Fortunes, and the Fate of the Marcellus Shale, is available on Amazon.

This article was published simultaneously on Wilber’s blog, http://tomwilber.blogspot.com/.

August 24, 2013   Comments Off on Tom Wilber Reports

Jim Palombo/Politics

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ejshoes

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On the Topic of Work 

by J. Palombo

I was recently invited to participate in the “The Economy of the Workers” conference in Joao Pessoa, Brazil. The invitation came via a colleague, Professor Andres Ruggeri from the University of Buenos Aires, who happens to be one of the directors of the gathering. Unfortunately I will not be able to attend as there is an important meeting stateside which happens to fall on the same dates – you will read more about this particular conference in an upcoming edition.  In any event, the invitation prompted several thoughts which I reasoned might be worth your consideration, so I thought I would pass them along.

One of the first things that came to mind when I got the conference review was a memory from my youth and my work as a paperboy in my predominantly immigrant neighborhood. Along my route, and only two doors up from the large tannery that employed many of the people in the town, there was a tavern called Workers Lunch. I knew the place fairly well as I delivered the morning paper there for several years and also had to collect the weekly fee usually every Thursday after school. In this context I was able to see both the environment and the bar-patrons close-up. In terms of the former, I can still recall the sour smell of beer, cooked vegetables and boiled meat and see the spittoons scattered along the bar floor. As to the latter, the mostly Polish, Czech and Russian people all seemed a little worse for wear, generally covered in the sweat and soot of their own daily labor. Their jobs promised hard work with little pay but it none the less provided them with a camaraderie which that style of life often brings.  I guess that noting the clarity in which I can recollect the place points to the fact that along with my own family history (many relatives worked in that tannery) the experiences in my youth provided me with a sensitivity for working class concerns, something that continues to this day. And I think it’s safe to say that although the workplace and the nature of work have changed over the years, I am not alone in carrying this sentiment.

Importantly, these memories made for an interesting backdrop in considering the tenor of the conference. In short, I was struck by how the elements of the conference, although clear in substance, did not really “fit” within our contemporary U.S. frame of worker-related considerations. (It seems that they might have made more sense to those at Workers Lunch.) In other words, and as an example, the listing of “topics of debate,” which includes the “historical trajectory of self-management from traditional communities to labor movements” and the “challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism” appears to speak to different terms pointed toward different experiences, different times and differing cultural instincts. Said another way, it’s as if the U.S.’s particular connection to both the industrial and technological revolutions as well as to the intricacies inherent in being the most advanced/modern capitalist system, made for a different language in terms of the issues being raised in the “other Americas.” And it naturally follows that these predominantly ideological-level differences would make for some discussion related challenges between the countries, challenges which may not be evident at first glance. In fact this was going to be my topic theme at the conference. The thought was that despite the U.S.  links to issues like union movements, unemployment, wage stagnation, income inequality, immigration and the overall notion of a work ethic, it seems reasonable to inquire into what extent the workers in the U.S. could actually identify and/or understand the “topics of debate” for this predominantly South and Latin American conference. In essence, my contribution would not be to say that one system is better than the other, or to infer that one is devoid of problems or pitfalls. Rather, my point would be to highlight the differences, encouraging that we better interpret them to bring our common and uncommon ground better into focus.

I will certainly be in contact with Professor Ruggeri in the future, as I am most interested in the outcome of the conference and what might happen in the years to follow. For now, I hope that you will take a moment to read through the conference review – I trust you will find it of interest. Of course, please feel free to offer your own thoughts – it would be great to know to what extent this type event, including the topics on the table and the comments I’ve offered, work for you.

* * * * *

 IV INTERNATIONAL GATHERING “THE ECONOMY OF THE WORKERS”

Alternatives for worker self-management and employment in response to the global economic crisis

9th to 12th July, 2013, Joao Pessoa, Brazil

 

In an international context where the global capitalist crisis is increasingly affecting European countries, especially along the Mediterranean, the only response from governments has been to implement a series of strict austerity measures. These austerity measures have been tried and tested in other parts of the world and have proven not only to fail to regenerate economies, but have lead to further impoverishment, structural unemployment, marginalization and insecurity for the majority of society who must work to earn a living. In response, large protest movements have begun to emerge in “developed” countries that are feeling the effects of the crisis the most, reinforcing the need for change in the management of the economy that not only contemplates the welfare of the working masses, but assures that they have a role in its management too.

In often-labeled “developing” countries, particularly throughout Latin America, social movements, popular organizations and labor movements have been developing processes of organization at a grass-roots level that in many cases take the form of worker self-management of economic units of goods and services. Such is the case of the worker-recovered businesses managed by the workers in Argentina, and other forms of worker-control, both urban and rural. In some instances, these movements have gained some recognition and support at a governmental level, bringing into question of the role of the state and the relationship between state power and the autonomy of the popular movement: on the one hand the state can be understood as a potential enhancer of these processes of worker-control, while on the other hand it can be perceived as an antagonistic instrument of traditional power with the potential to compromise the autonomy of self-management.

The IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers” seeks to explore these and other questions relating to the struggle of the workers from different perspectives and in different national contexts. It seeks to provide a space for discussion and debate using the experiences of worker economic control and self-management as a point of departure, bringing together the perspectives of academics, social activists, and the workers themselves. Together with worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, labor movements and organizations, social movements, political groups and academics, among others, we have been developing the International Gathering and the themes explored within it, with representatives from over 20 countries participating in the previous gatherings. We reiterate here what we have emphasized in the previous conferences: ‘In non-hegemonic, if uneven, ways, workers are also inventing alternatives that are not limited to the economic, but that delve into wider cultural processes as well, which, based on non-capitalist relations of production, have opened more and more spaces for pre-figurative politics. These alternative economic institutions are affording workers spaces to discuss issues such as internal power and gender structures, as well as the relationship between workers, workplaces, and their surrounding communities. These processes, visible for example in the recovered factories, workers’ cooperatives, and micro-enterprises of the world, although incipient, show that workers can present and self-manage a more humane and sustainable alternative to corporate globalization’.

The IV International Gathering will be held in the North Eastern state of Paraíba, Brazil, hosted by the Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES), Federal University of Paraiba and the Open Faculty Program of the University of Buenos Aires.

History of the International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”, whose first edition was held in Buenos Aires in July 2007 under the theme “Self-management and distribution of wealth”, was organized by the Open Faculty Program of the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, University of Buenos Aires, in conjunction with academic institutions, social organizations and workers in Argentina and around the world. The Gathering emerged as a forum for the exchange of ideas and experiences between academics, activists and workers about the problems and possibilities of self-management, a regeneration of a political, economic and social project by the working class and social movements, as well as to critically discuss and analyze the practices of academic investigation into these topics.

The Argentine experience of worker-control and self-management provided a solid basis for discussion for the first Gathering in 2007. These discussions evolved to take on an international nature by the second and third Gatherings (held in Buenos Aires in 2009, and in Mexico City in 2011) looking at, and learning from, the different experiences of the working class and social movements around the world, with an ultimate objective in mind of producing an alternative economic, social and political project than that which neoliberal global capitalism presents. In this sense the themes and discussion topics of the Gathering became more diverse, expanding to different areas of social struggles and critical thinking, yet still remaining true to the spirit of the Gathering that that its title suggests: how to think about, debate and construct an economy from the workers and worker self-management.

 

Topics of Debate:

1. Analysis of capitalist management of the economy and proposals for self-management

2. The new crisis of global capitalism: analysis from the perspective of the economy of the workers

3. The historical trajectory of self-management: from traditional communities to labor movements

4. Self-management in its actual stage: problems and possibilities. Worker-recovered businesses, cooperatives, and attempts at self-management by indigenous communities, peasants and social movements.

5. Self-management and Gender: creating democracy

6. Analysis of the socialist experience: past and future

7. The challenges of trade union experiences in neoliberal global capitalism.

8. Informal, precarious and degrading employment: social exclusion or reconfiguration of labor in global capitalism?

9. New movements in response to the global economic crisis: perspectives from the struggle for self-management

10. Challenges facing popular governments in the social management of the economy and the state

11. The university, workers and social movements: debate over methodologies and practices of mutual construction

12. Pedagogy of self-management

 

Organizational structure for the IV International Gathering “The Economy of the Workers”

The IV International Gathering will take place on 9th thru 12th July, 2013, with morning and afternoon sessions, and will be open to the public. There will be plenary sessions and workshops with the presentation of papers, videoconferencing, and a final plenary session with discussion and conclusions.

Organizing Committees:

Incubator for Social Entrepreneurship (INCUBES) Universidade Federal da Paraíba, Brazil; Department of Social Relations of the Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco, Mexico; Open Faculty Program, Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Núcleo de Solidariedade Técnica (SOLTEC/UFRJ)

* Professor Andres Ruggeri is Director of the Open University Program, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina. He can be reached at: Andres.Ruggeri@gmail.com

 

About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

June 29, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Jim Palombo/Politics

brics flags

Capitalism on the Move…

by Jim Palombo

We certainly have our share of national concerns  in the U.S. – unemployment, social welfare, taxes, rebuilding our infrastructure, the debt, education, the gun issue, immigration, rebuilding trust in our government – just to name a few.  Yet amid these struggles, there is little doubt that issues on the international front cannot be ignored. In short, despite what happens at home, the rest of the world continues to turn.  In this context I wanted to present a few considerations that seem very important – in essence they signify the nation building and the resulting relationships that are developing across the globe, both endeavors that will continue to have a major impact on our American experiment. So make yourself comfortable, take a read and see what you think.

Last week I participated in a discussion that involved ideas related to re-thinking Karl Marx, in particular his critical analysis of capitalism (from which contemporary socialism and communism developed), and also to the continuing adaptations of capitalism that are developing in the world. The focus was on Russia, with some important links to China and some corresponding “residual effect” links to the U.S.  It was an interesting and provocative dialogue and it actually prompted this article, as I wanted to sort through some of the considerations that were put on the table.

One of the most prominent parts of the discussion was that it has become very clear that although both Russia and China are adopting tenets of capitalism, this is not to say that they are becoming more like the U.S. In other words, even though the U.S. represents the most advanced capitalist system in the world, this does not make it the model for everyone else.  In fact, it seems that other countries, with different growth models in mind, are using us as an example of what not to do at least as much as what to do. (In this sense the American experiment is more of a model to learn from than to emulate.)

Let me expand on this a bit more.  Russia and China (both members of the World Trade Organization and the BRICS alliance – Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – by the way) shared struggles with the ideological frame of communism, which created certain “central planning” instincts in their people that are markedly different than those instincts created in our country. In fact it can be well argued that they, with their ties to collective concerns and communism (as opposed to individual ones more evident in the capitalist U.S.), are in better stead to eventually come to grips with/manage the pitfalls of capitalism than we are.  In short, these countries are pretty much in tune with each other’s internal and external order.  And again, it is important to note that what is being developed within these major economies, even though integrated with capitalism, is something different than what the U.S. offers.

This is certainly not to say that there aren’t similarities between us.  Among others things, China is facing massive struggles in terms of developing and maintaining equality-related strategies, in terms of environmental issues and in terms of providing income and productive work to its population.  And Russia has to contend with similar problems amid an even deeper degree of corruption than seems evident in either China or the U.S.  (It seems that their informal, illegal structure was much more in tune with “doing business” than was their formal structure, which has made corruption, in an almost “wild west” form, a seemingly unavoidable cost of their economic and political transition.)  In differing degrees then, these problems aren’t so different than what we face, even with our century or so jump on the capitalist trail.

But in looking beyond these general similarities (which in fact are present in almost all societies) there is more. Consider that Russia and China represent two mammoth countries, both in physical size and in terms of producers and consumers, who have actually rediscovered their border connects, as well as their new attachments to capitalism. This is in addition to their previously noted experiences with communism/socialism, and their general dislike/suspicion in terms of the U.S. model. These elements speak to a rather grand bond growing right before our eyes, assuming we are willing to look.

brics mapImportantly, and in this “coming together” context, consider the agreements for oil trade as Russia becomes the major supplier of oil to China. (Like, interestingly, it is to Israel.) These agreements also carry with them the significant possibility to trade oil on a currency (most likely the renminbi/yuan) other than the dollar. It is no secret that the Chinese as well as other countries within BRICS, particularly Brazil, and within OPEC as well, to wit Iran and Iraq, have been encouraging a move away from the “dollar-power” in world oil trade. Given that BRICS alone represents over 40% of the world’s population, and that the Middle East continues in a dangerous flux, the net effect of this transition could basically tip the U.S. oil trade and its currency value on their collective head. (In terms of China, this possibility is often countered by noting that it owns a significant portion of our debt-related Treasury securities i.e., why would it jeopardize this investment via a change in oil and currency transactions? Actually, this question appears less difficult to untangle if the debt-ownership is thought of as a savvy hedge bet that could help control the money market and limit the damages therein, rather than thinking of it as a straight-forward investment strategy.)

Of course, in any situation, the developing Russian-Chinese relationship seems destined to grow, as the ties that bind seem for now stronger than those that don’t. (For how long Russia can play a “supportive role” to Chinese led expansion is certainly an important question.) And this will not only have economic and political effects between the two countries, but this “feeling of partnership” will also extend to those growth models that have similar ideological frames and/or differences with the U.S. This is certainly true of many of the countries in the “other” Americas (think Central and South America with their 21st century socialism) as well as in Cuba and Mexico.  One can even consider the European Union (especially Germany) as an example, with its ties to socialism but its need to better compete on the commercial world stage. In essence, which growth model makes more sense for them to attach to – the struggling U.S., with its ties to the EU financial crisis and penchant for over indulgence and deficit spending, or the ever-growing model presented by China, with its ties to a more socialist/communist frame, its monetary surplus and its ideological connect to the growing number of producers and consumers in other developing countries across the world? (This line of questioning seems also to apply to Japan and its future alliance with the U.S., although its nationalistic tendencies as well as long-standing animosity with China bring to bear other considerations.)

And there is another important point to ponder. How do these considerations relate to the U.S. military presence in the world? Although China seems more interested in assuming the mantle of “numero uno” more by the logic of its ideology than by military force, this does not mean it is ignoring its military role in global affairs.  From its muscle-flexing in Asia, to its non-draining, non-involvement in the Middle East, to its partnerships with other “non-liking U.S.” players, to its covert (and overt) intelligence operations across the globe, their presence is clearly in effect.  And of course, if they maintain this tact of military strategy, this not only increases U.S. anxieties in terms of how to engage the rest of the world, but also re-enforces the support of countries like Russia who will benefit from the growing status of the Chinese model. (The military questions pose a whole other set of issues for the EU countries as well as Japan.)

Of course, none of what is being said here is meant to oversimplify world dynamics, or to conjure up some U.S. “doomsday.”  More to the point is that although these are complex and often slippery considerations, the world is indeed changing. And in this context, there is little doubt that our model, however it is characterized, is on trial and that much of the world’s viewers represent the jury. And it may well be that the verdict is already a foregone conclusion, that given the power continuing to develop in China, and the links from them to the other developing growth models, and the national and international problems that our own model has created,  the U.S. will not be THE world superpower that it has been accustomed to being.  In short, there is no longer a sleeping giant out there, it’s fully awake, and its ideological energy and as importantly its money, never seem at rest.

Given the tenor of the discussion I was involved in, and as a final note to this article, no matter what one might think about the change in world power, there is a clear, two-fold signal that we must heed.  First, we in the U.S. must not choose to separate ourselves from the world outside our door, but rather choose to integrate ourselves with what is occurring. In this sense, we cannot approach global concerns by drawing lines in the sand, especially when that sand simply doesn’t belong to us. Secondly, and as is often argued here at Ragazine, we need to make sure that our citizenry has a legitimate understanding in terms of both our national and international concerns, especially as the divisions between these two becomes less distinct. In this sense, our leadership must be talking about improving civic education in the country. So, let’s hope that our leadership and our citizenry find ways to better dialogue about what’s happening at home and abroad – and that our future direction is illuminated by this course of action.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

 About the author:

Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.

Photo/Art Credits: Google Images

 

April 27, 2013   Comments Off on Jim Palombo/Politics

Politics & Art in 19th Century France

 

museo mexico

Museo Nacional de Arte, Ciudad de Mexico

___________

France on the Verge of Change

After a bloody and violent revolution, the European country

underwent a period of uneasy social and creative transition

 

Editor’s Note:

IN CONTINUATION OF ART AND IDEOLOGY

In last month’s edition we presented a piece regarding the influence of ideological variables on the Polish Poster Art experience.  The point was that the economic and political frames under which art happens often have a significant impact on the nature of what gets created.  I happened to be in Mexico City shortly after the publication of the article and I had the opportunity to see the 19th century French art exhibit at the National Museum of Art. Once again the influence of what was then happening in France in an ideological sense had a particular impact on what the masters of those days produced.

This occurrence might have gone as simply another interesting point of reference but it wasn’t more than a week later that Patrick Ferguson wrote the following article for The News, an in-English language daily newspaper from Mexico City. Given that the piece was quite good, and that it blended well with the theme of the Polish Poster article, we thought it would make an interesting follow-up. So, taking note as to the famous artists of the time as well as the influence of the ideological conditions of that period, we hope you enjoy Mr. Ferguson’s work. And one last thought. For us Americans, and in terms of our ideological variables now in play, one has to wonder what our contemporary art might reflect relative to future considerations.  

— Jim Palombo, Politics Editor

 

By Patrick Ferguson

After a violent and bloody revolution at the end of the 18th century, France underwent a period of uneasy social and creative transition reflecting the restless culture of a country struggling to deal with the aftermath of a half century of political upheaval and social uncertainty.

This was a country where the notions of nationalism took hold in the hearts of the common people and a new democratic form of expression in art, literature and music replaced the now-archaic philosophies of classicism and rigid emphasis on hierarchical order, balanced reason and cogent clarity that had defined society before the revolution.

The 19th and early 20th centuries in France were a time of renewed romanticism, abstract ideals and individual expression, a time when art spoke to and was created by the common people and where the simple beauty of a modest daily life was exalted in words and images, reiterating the message of the undeniable equality of all men under a true democratic government.

A new exhibit at the National Museum of Art (Munal) in Mexico City’s downtown Centro Histórico offers visitors a unique opportunity to witness an overview of paintings from that period, with various French artists’ portrayals of daily life during 19th and early 20th century France.

The exhibition, titled “El placer y el orden. Orsay en el Munal” (“Pleasure and order. Orsay at the Munal”), features 65 works of art from French masters such as Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, Paul Gauguin, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Auguste Rodin, Georges Seurat, Alfred Stevens and André Devambez.

Organized by the National Institute of Fine Arts, “El placer y el orden” is the brainchild of curators Isabel Cahn of the d’Orsay Museum in Paris and the Munal’s own Jaime Moreno Villarreal. It took the pair five years to put together the collection and make arrangements to bring it to Mexico.

“I want to thank the two museums because it is extraordinary to be here standing in Mexico, in front of a Gauguin,” Cahn said, at the inauguration of the exhibit. “It is a privilege to present these paintings here in Mexico.”

The general director of the d’Orsay Museum, Alain Lombard, added that the project was an “exceptional example of binational cultural cooperation” that showed the universality of artistic exchange.

The collection – which reflects the class struggles within a newly reordered social structure and the eventual emergence of the bourgeoisie as France’s most powerful class – shows the country and its capital city urgently pushing towards modernity and, later, utopia, Moreno Villarreal explained.

Under a new labor system with the bourgeoisie calling the shots, workers were for the first time, allowed to form unions and fight for their rights.

As a result, Moreno Villarreal said, “leisure time was born.”

In 1853, Napoleon III commissioned Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann to carry out a series of renovation works in Paris and its surrounding suburbs.

Haussmann widened streets and renovated buildings, making space for business owners to set up public cafés, restaurants and theaters.

Paris’ most iconic monument, the Eiffel Tower, was also built during this time.

Both the rise of the middle class in Paris and the urbanization of the city would serve as the backdrop for France’s multitude of painters and artists for the rest of the 19th century and into the next.

“This exhibit shows the virtues and the defects of a society that, toward the end of the 19th Century, established itself as the center of the world and which would become an example for political and cultural development, as well as Western civilization,” Moreno Villarreal said.

In Alfred Stevens’ 1854 painting “What is Called Vagrancy,” police officers take away a homeless woman in the street while a bourgeoise woman holds her gloved hand out to her.

After Napoleon III saw the painting, he allegedly ordered French soldiers to no longer remove vagrants from the streets.

The exhibit is divided in two sections, with the first focusing on public life and the second concentrating on private affairs.

The collection opens with Devambez’s “La Charge,” a somber street scene depicting the light from cafés and restaurants shining on a boulevard overrun with laborers protesting at night.

 

charge

As the police clash with the demonstrators, the crowd goes about its business, scurrying off to social events, seemingly indifferent to the protestors’ plight.

“When we see the terms ‘pleasure’ and ‘order’ together, they appear contradictory,” Moreno Villarreal said.“But the origin of the modern city lies precisely in this contradiction. This painting represents that contradiction very well.

A painting by Monet shows three women sitting in a boat. The setting is rural, reflecting the classic bourgeois dream of having enough money to leave the city on the weekend and perhaps even own a vacation home in the countryside, Moreno Villarreal said.

The painting, he said, suggests that even artists had dreams of using their talent to elevate themselves into the bourgeoisie class, a dream that very seldom came to be.

Later in the exhibit, audiences observe Renoir’s portrait of Monet in which he is depicted as a destitute, bohemian artist. At one point in his life, Monet was left to fend for himself, having to live off the little money he made from his work.

Moreno Villarreal pointed out that after France’s war with Prussia ended in 1871, a period of renewed hope and the expectation of peace followed.

He said that the French people at that time were searching for a utopia, a golden age.

But the disparity between society’s notion of prosperity and reality is not lost in the artwork displayed in “El placer y el orden,” where other paintings depict industrialization, rough urban landscapes and raw human emotion.

In Cézanne’s “Les joueurs de cartes,” two men sit idly at a table playing cards, expressionless and unresponsive to their surroundings.

Another of Cézanne’s paintings, “La femme étranglée” (“The Strangled Woman”), needless to say, depicts a seedier side of life.

In contrast to some of the harsh images in the first half of the exhibit, the first piece in the second section, a painting of flowers, is simple but emblematic of France’s growing urban middle class, Moreno Villarreal said.

“The flowers are fundamental because they express the interior of the bourgeoisie home and their domestic surroundings,” he said.“The recurring image of flowers is characteristic of bourgeois paintings.”

Many paintings in the second half show Parisians comfortably enjoying their leisure time. They are accompanied by their families in gardens or parks, lunching and relaxing, surrounded by abundance.

“In comparison to paintings of aristocratic families, we see a much more relaxed family, a lightness that didn’t exist in the body language of the aristocratic class,” Moreno Villarreal said.

However, towards the end of the 19th Century, some French artists became disillusioned with this notion of idealized comfort.

“There was still inequality, despite the French Revolution, there was still poverty despite social economic success, there were still wars, there was still a lack of job opportunities,” Moreno Villarreal said. That realization of an unfulfilled dream led to a cynical movement within artistic expression. One of the best examples of this cynicism can be found in the works of Gauguin. Having left a comfortable position as a stockbroker to pursue art, Gauguin began to consider impressionism and European art too imitative and began to pursue a deeper muse.

“Gauguin was so critical and embittered with the society of the time that he decided to leave France altogether to search for paradise elsewhere, a place where he believed real equality existed between people,” Moreno Villarreal said.

“The paintings of Gauguin portray a more primitive society as much more civilized than modern French society.”

Gauguin’s famous painting “Tahitian Women on the Beach” is considered to be one of the best pieces in the exhibit.

Miguel Fernández, the director of the Munal, said that the collection represents “a great opportunity to enjoy not only the works of world-class artists, but also to analyze pieces by artists who represent a major change in the vision of art.”

Besides paintings, sculptures and drawings, the exhibit also features a mock café, where visitors can sit down and flip through photo albums of pictures taken during the period and a small movie house projecting French films from the late 19th Century.

By the same token, there is also a period dressing room where visitors are invited to try on clothes fashioned after 19th Century styles or even attempt to create a reproduction of one of their favorite paintings or images from the collection with the help of volunteer mentors from the exhibit’s workshop.

 

About the author:

Patrick Ferguson is an international journalist; he can be reached at: thenews.city@gmail.comThis article appeared first in The News (www.thenews.com.mx)

March 2, 2013   Comments Off on Politics & Art in 19th Century France

Art and Ideology: Polish Posters

poster

The Ideology Link

Jim Palombo

Politics Editor

One would be hard pressed to argue that ideology, or the political and economic frame under which one lives, does not have an impact on art. From simple availability of the tools of the trade to the influence of resistant behavior, a primary ingredient in all art would seem to be the measure of political and economic freedom under which it is created. It may well be that much of the greatest art comes from some form of reaction to ideological control, as if that goads the artist and/or the art into a form of self-assertion that might be otherwise untapped. This can be true whether the reaction speaks to a collective crisis pointed at the human condition, or to the entangled spirit of individual struggle, or to both.

Recently, I came across one of the most unique examples of this type situation. In this case it was of creativity struggling with oppression, where the art that followed symbolized particular elements of this struggle.  And what made it most unique was that the art flourished with the actual assistance of the same oppressive regime being critiqued, providing a strange twist to work that might have otherwise been deemed ”underground art.”  So, in the spirit of our continuing political dialogue, and given that the ability to create remains at the heart of this magazine, I wanted to share a bit of this “ideology meets art” with you.

The first part of this article reviews the history tied to the unique development of “Polish Poster Art.” And certainly, should you have the opportunity to attend an exhibition of the posters themselves, take it. I thoroughly enjoyed my exposure to the art work at the Café Contento in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico – what the posters reveal speaks for itself.  The second part notes the docu-film, “Freedom on the Fence,”  a piece that relays the true story of Polish poster art history. Here again, if you have the chance to see this engaging piece, by all means do so.  In short, it’s easy to say that both the posters and the film should inspire your interest. Of course, like with all the material here at Ragazine, if this article prompts you to follow the lead, don’t hesitate to let us know.

THE POLISH POSTER EXPERIENCE

(Organized from material provided by Martin Rosenberg)

“In the Cold War era the vitality of the Polish Poster School attracted international attention and admiration. Although state controlled, the posters – which are characterized by sophisticated imagery and surreal tendencies – often carried powerful, oblique commentaries on the artists’ political surroundings.”

Juliet Kinchin, Curator, Museum of Modern Art (MoMa), New York City, New York.

The Origin of “the discovery”

In 1983, while attending a business meeting in San Francisco, Martin Rosenberg came across a group of vintage Polish film, theater and circus posters in the rarely accessed storage files of a poster gallery. He recognized that the images didn’t conform to any design styles in Europe he was familiar with. The language was Polish and the posters were produced in the 1960s and 1970s. A few phone calls made on the following morning confirmed their Polish provenance.

Martin acquired the entire lot of posters feeling strongly that here was a genre of poster design relatively unknown in the Americas. Research validated that there were no major collections and only modest examples in institutions such as Chicago’s Polish Museum of America, The Museum of Modern Art in New York and The Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. existed.

When the sources for more information seemed exhausted in the U.S., Martin began extensive travel to Poland. Over the next three decades he developed relationships with artists, professors, museums, collectors and graphic designers from whom he could build a deep knowledge of the history of Polish posters and the historical context in which they were created.

Until the Solidarity movement removed the Communist regime from power and international shipping became reliable, Martin hand carried all the posters acquired in Europe back to the U.S. The first public exhibition he produced was for the Polish Museum of America in 1990 – it was the largest showing of vintage Polish posters ever presented outside of Warsaw. Martin went on to produce many exhibitions, author articles, co-produce books, lecture and serve as executive producer and art consultant for the documentary film on the Polish poster – Freedom on the Fence – a film that will be reviewed in just a bit.

The History of Polish Poster Art

From 1945 to the end of Communist rule in Poland, one art form dominated the country’s attention – the cultural poster. During an extended period of oppression and censorship, Poland’s leading painters and graphic designers focused their passion on solely this art form. To the people, poster art in the streets, on walls, fences and kiosks, represented a form hope and often presented the only beauty visible in the otherwise gray landscape.

As noted in the introduction the actual impetus for this unique art came about in a rather paradoxical way. It so happened that the post war Soviet officials were interested in having poster’s made that depicted cultural events being offered under their rule, including the showing of American made films. Not wanting to be coerced into doing work that might be considered purely propagandist, the actual art arose from the negotiation between Professor Henryk Tomaszewski, a renowned Polish artist, and the Russian government, basically providing the artists the opportunity to create poster art that would extend beyond what might be considered the typical social realism of the day. And it was in this collaborative context that this new form of symbolism and metaphor found its origin. In essence, the poster became a subtle yet powerful form of communication that spoke to the spirit and struggles of the Polish people. (It is unclear from the information at hand as to why the Soviet government allowed for both the showing of the American films and the ensuing poster development. In other words, there is no archival information that details the government’s participation in these “negotiations.” Yet, it is clear from Tomaszewski’s interviews that to gain his support, and thereby that of the artistic community and universities, the visual imagery created by the poster designers could not be censored or made to conform to the prevailing, propagandist style.  Allowing this form of freedom was not a common response by the totalitarian Russian government. But it seems that the expression promised by Tomaszewksi was something even the Communist leaders felt would be acceptable in terms of mitigating underlying anxieties of the Polish people. It has also been speculated that in allowing for the art, especially in a form that reflected American film production, the political leaders where demonstrating the ability to create art without commercial interest as the goal, perhaps a point directed sharply at their arch-rival, the American enterprise.)

Scope of the Poster genre

Poland’s academies of fine art and design drew the country’s most passionate art students. The competition to become a recognized artist was heavily dependent on establishing a presence in poster design. Cultural posters advertising film, theater, music, dance, sports, exhibitions and virtually all-public programs were produced in relatively small numbers to satisfy the number of locations where they would be displayed in public places.

As alluded to, these posters were not made for sale. Under Communist rule private art galleries were not permitted which again made the street the gallery. Consequently, many of the posters were destroyed by being pasted on walls or fences for public display. Paper and ink were also very expensive so there were no stockpiles of extra posters as was common in European countries where more commercial, advertising posters were being produced. So it was that the limited production, the cost and fragility of the artists’ tools, and the overall survival rate of the work itself seriously impacted the collection of posters from the great period of 1945-1980. But fortunately, via conscientious collectors in Poland and elsewhere, a significant number did survive.

The leading artists of the times where led by Professor Henryk Tomaszewski (1914-2005), and supported by fellow painters Tadeusz Trepkowski (1914-1954),  Josef Mroszczak (1910-1975), Eryk Lipinski (1908-1991) and Tadeusz Gronowski (1894-1990.), As the 1950s  continued the Polish poster exhibitions and various international awards accelerated recognition of these artists and the Polish School of Posters became a part of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. And from that point a second wave of artist was born into the art.  This younger, 1960s’ generation included people like Julian Palka, Wiktor Gorka and Hanna Bodnar, who created even more striking designs while pop art found its way into the new poster techniques.

The art continued to develop throughout the 1970s although with a continual influence outside of Warsaw.  More irony and more symbolism followed as the art form began to take on the issues tied more closely to the oppressive nature of the Polish experience as it came in closer contact with the “more-free” world.  This creative reference to the struggle extended into the 1980s with the now famous Solidarity movement, which brought to Poland the freedom and political change that had been so long sought.

Interestingly, and some say unfortunately unintended, the new found freedom had its impact on the poster art. In short, it seemed that the “market model” that would accompany the freedom pushed the poster into the commercial world, turning it into the advertising and billboard commodity more common to the western world. In other words, the ideological shift provided a push away from the unique culture oriented posters toward the commercial, mass marketing images we see today. This was once again evidence of the ideology-to-art axiom, and perhaps an unanticipated nod to the Soviet’s apprehension regarding creativity and the nature of western commercial/capitalist influence. In any event, that influence has no doubt created an art culture of its own – much of which, for good or for bad, we can openly see, hear and feel today.

FREEDOM ON THE FENCE

(I attended the premier of this film in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. There was an enthusiastic audience at the Angela Peralta Theater and in talking with people afterwards it was clear that the film was very well received. It is now in distribution across the globe for exhibition purposes. )

Although posters have a long, centuries old history, it is unique in the annals of art form to identify an extended period when an entire country’s art academies, artists and the public focused their creative energy on a single medium. And this is what happened with the cultural advertising poster. Freedom on the Fence reveals for the first time on film the exceptional and inspiring story of how Poland’s history of poster design, under the ever-looming censorship of Soviet rule, influenced the artists both in country and across the world.

The film depicts how, on the drab streets and amid the rubble of the war torn ruins of their Polish cities, Poland’s best known painters found their freedom. Hanging on the construction fences and barren walls of cities like Warsaw and Krakow, the virtual galleries for the artists, their posters demonstrated not only a form of fine art, but messages that spoke to creativity and a willingness to express beauty under oppressive conditions.

Examining the period from World War II, through the fall of Soviet communism, the film captures the story of how this exceptional and powerful art flourished. And at the film’s end, there is also a reference to the fact that the cultural poster art has given way to the commercial/consumer interests of the modern world – with the large billboards and mass media technology – all of which signaled the end of the real Polish Poster Art movement. Organized and co-produced by Martin Rosenberg, the Polish poster collector, and featuring rare archival footage and exclusive interviews, this is a unique and compelling documentary presenting a story that has not previously been told on film.  Whether an artist, art lover, historian, political scientist or just an interested person, it is a piece that is definitely worth seeing.

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In a final note about ideology and art, the Polish poster experience and the transition from the cultural to the commercial poster as well, I’ll leave you with this thought by Polish-American writer (artist) Jerzy Kosinski:

“The principle of art is to pause, not bypass.”

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About the author:

Martin Rosenberg is President of Rosenberg Associates Ltd and Owner of the Vintage Poster Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico and he can be reached at rosenbergassociates@earthlink.net

 

For more information, contact: 

MR Posters & Graphics
Santa Fe, NM
E-mail: info@mrposter.com

Phone: 505/577-7419
Fax: 505/988-7080

Visit the Polish Vintage Poster Gallery

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 28, 2012   Comments Off on Art and Ideology: Polish Posters